CEarlier this week, London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) officially unveiled its new studio and research complex in Battersea, a sprawling neighborhood on the ever-changing south bank of the Thames, best known for its historic power station and namesake park.
The million Battersea campus project, a concrete behemoth designed by Herzog & de Meuron covered with textured bricks and glass, is described by the RCA as the “largest investment in transformational space” in its 185-year history and a development that marks “a critical point” in its gradual evolution towards a “dynamic STEAM-driven postgraduate university.””
RCA’s flagship Battersea campus, which covers almost 170,000 square meters and offers workshops, studio spaces, research facilities and exhibition venues, allows the legendary London institution (RCA is the only university dedicated to postgraduate arts and design in the UK) to expand into new areas of research. – and the fields of study—namely computer science and materials science, robotics, advanced manufacturing, complex visualization and data science, and intelligent mobility, as detailed by the RCA-while providing postgraduate graduates with the tools and know-how to meet “some of the most urgent challenges of our time.”
The new building is just south of a number of other facilities that include the RCA satellite campus in the burgeoning creative district of Battersea, including a trio of structures designed by Haworth Tompkins: the painting building (born the Sackler Building), the Dyson Building and the Woo Building, the last of which opened in 2015. In addition to its growing presence in Battersea, the RCA also maintains a historic campus in South Kensington and a communications school that opened in White City in 2017.
The Swiss Herzog & de Meuron won the Battersea campus project out of competition in 2016 and won a pre-selection of international practices including Studio Gang, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the French Lactaton & Vassal.
Two merged volumes include RCA’s new addition to Battersea, which replaces the old sculpture building. The new Rausing Research & Innovation building includes eight floors of “independent and confidential research space” for materials science, soft robotics, advanced manufacturing, intelligent mobility, AR and VR visualization, etc. On the top floor there is a spacious seminar and conference room with terrace, while InnovationRCA, a hub for “business, entrepreneurship, incubation and business support”, is housed on the two lower levels. Resting on a squat brick base, the upper floors of the building are wrapped in white vertical fins.
Directly north of the research building on Howie Street is the studio building. The low, factory-like structure, like Herzog & de Meuron’s acclaimed Tate Modern extension, is defined by its masonry facade and sawtooth roofline that matches that of the neighboring buildings of Haworth Tompkins, Painting and Dyson. On the ground floor, the workshops and production facilities receive three levels of studios to support postgraduate students enrolled in the sculpture, Moving Image and contemporary art practice programs. “Designed as social and educational spaces for creative transfer and collaboration, the studios will also host temporary exhibitions and large-scale works,” explained the college.
The hangar anchors the two different wings of the imposing complex, a roughly 3,800-square-foot double-height “multipurpose activity space” with massive doors at both ends for the installation of large and complex works of art. It is joined by a smaller but equally flexible space, the Robotic Hangar, which, true to its name, mainly serves as a place for research and testing of “Intelligent mobility, design engineering, sculpture and robotics, with aerial and aquatic robotics”, according to a press release from the RCA.
With natural ventilation, daylight strategies, a solar panel on the roof and other sustainable design elements, the building received the BREEAM rating “Excellent”.
Alongside the launch of the Battersea campus, the RCA also unveiled its five-year strategic plan for 2022-2027, which “continues its ambition to use interdisciplinary thinking to solve global problems while continuing to attract the world’s most talented professors, students, artists, designers and supporters.”More information about this plan can be found here.