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After studying at Manchester University Leslie Martin taught at the University of Hull. In 1937 he co-edited with Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo the journal Circle that reviewed avant-garde abstract art and architecture.
During the Second World War Martin was assigned to the pre-nationalisation Railway companies to supervise re-building of bomb damaged regional rail stations. In this capacity Martin developed pre-fabricated designs to speed construction. Following the war Martin was made a Deputy Architect to the London County Council and in 1948 Hugh Casson selected him to lead the design team for the Royal Festival Hall the most prestigious building project of the Festival of Britain. In part in recognition of his achievement Martin was made Chief Architect of the LCC in 1953 and used his position to promote emerging younger architects Colin St. John Wilson, James Stirling, and Alison and Peter Smithson. Martin was involved initially in the Brunswick Centre with Patrick Hodgkinson, an early experiment in planned mixed-use development in Bloomsbury that was partially completed. The 1950s also saw the creation of the Loughborough Estate in Brixton, South London, designed by Leslie Martin.
From 1956 Martin was made head of the Architecture School at Cambridge University where Colin St. John Wilson was his assistant. Martin with Wilson completed a number of academic buildings including halls of residence Harvey Court for Gonville and Caius College, one of the most important examples of brick brutalism, and the William Stone Building for Peterhouse; and the St. Cross faculty libraries, St Cross Road, for Oxford University. Martin was also the masterplanner for Leicester University. One of his later projects was an extension to Kettle's Yard Art Gallery to house the works of Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and others.
In the 1960s the British government commissioned Martin to draw plans for a wholesale demolition and redevelopment of the area between St. James's Park and the Thames Embankment in London. This would have involved the demolition of most of the Victorian and Edwardian government offices (the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Office, the old Home Office, etc.) in Whitehall, which were then scheduled for demolition, and left the famous Inigo Jones-designed Banqueting Hall as a traffic island and the original Scotland Yard building enveloped in the middle of a courtyard of offices. The plans met with determined opposition from the public and conservation groups, especially the Victorian Society, and their implementation was delayed. The Heath Government eventually formally abandoned Sir Leslie's plan in 1971. The existing buildings were subsequently restored and opened to the public.
Martin was also responsible for the modernist house Brackenfell (now Grade II listed) in Brampton, Cumbria, built for textile designer and artist Alastair Morton, MD of Edinburgh Weavers. The interior colour scheme was reputedly designed by Ben Nicholson who lived locally when married to Winifred Roberts, daughter of the Earl of Carlisle; and it houses small marble sculpture by Barbara Hepworth and painting by Mondrian who was rescued from war-threatened France by Winifred Nicholson.
- Adolf K. Placzek, Macmillan encyclopedia of architects, Vol. 4, Free Press 1982, ISBN 0-02-925000-5, ISBN 978-0-02-925000-6, p. 112
- Hasan-Uddin Khan, International style: modernist architecture from 1925 to 1965, Cologne: Taschen 1998, p. 230
- "Sir Leslie Martin". Guardian Newspaper. 2 August 2000. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- "Naum Gabo - bio". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- "Arthur Jackson Hepworth". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- "Sir Leslie Martin". Telegraph Newspaper. 1 Aug 2000. Retrieved 15 July 2012.