The Royal College of Art opens its muscular brick campus in Battersea

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Earlier this week, the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London officially unveiled its highly anticipated new campus building in Battersea, a sprawling South Bank district best known for its revitalized power station site.

The $169 million Battersea Campus project, a Herzog & de Meuron-designed concrete juggernaut clad in textured brick and glass, is described by RCA as the “biggest investment in a transformational space” in its 185 years of history and a development that “marks a critical point” in its gradual evolution from a traditional arts school to a “dynamic STEAM-focused postgraduate university”.

Spanning nearly 170,000 square feet, the new complex includes workshops, studios, research facilities and event/exhibition venues and will allow the historic London institution (the RCA is the only dedicated postgraduate art and design university in the UK) to expand into new areas of research and study – namely computing and materials science, robotics, advanced manufacturing, complex visualization and data science, and smart mobility, as detailed by RCA – while providing postgraduate students with the tools and know-how to tackle “some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

(Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

The new campus building neighbors existing RCA facilities at its satellite campus in the nascent creative district of Battersea, featuring a trio of structures designed by Haworth Tompkins: the Paint Building (born the Sackler Building), the Dyson Building and the Wow. In addition to Battersea, RCA also has campuses in South Kensington and, as of 2017, White City.

Switzerland’s Herzog & de Meuron won the standout Battersea campus project in 2016, triumphing over a shortlist of international practices that included Studio Gang, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and France’s Lactaton & Vassal, among others.

a brick building with a jagged roofline
Clad in brick, a four-story volume dedicated to studio and workshop space features a distinctive sawtooth roofline. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

Wrote the project firm:

“The RCA Battersea campus is designed as a porous and flexible ‘territory’ of platforms where the varied needs of the RCA program are given space to change and grow, allowing space to be transformed as needed at during this process. The studio and research buildings are designed as communities in their own right – a place that encourages interaction between students, faculty and staff. Our intention is also to create a civic connector, encouraging circulation through the site and inviting exchange between members of the RCA community, the neighborhood and the city at large.

Anchoring the two distinct wings of the towering campus complex is The Hangar, an approximately 3,800 square foot “multifunctional activity space” featuring massive doors at both ends to allow for the installation of artwork bulky and complex. It is joined by a smaller but equally large flexible event and exhibition space, the Robotics Hangar, which, true to its name, serves primarily as a place to research and test “intelligent mobility, engineering of design, sculpting and robotics, with aerial and aquatic robotics functions,” according to an RCA press release.

a low brick building
Exterior view of the Hangar, a multi-faceted event and social space at the heart of the new building. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)
inside a cavernous gallery and event space
Inside the shed (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

Two conjoined volumes make up RCA’s new Battersea Campus: the taller, fin-wrapped Rausing Research and Innovation Building, which features eight floors of “independent and confidential research space” for the science of materials, soft robotics, advanced manufacturing, smart mobility, augmented reality and VR visualization, and more. A spacious seminar and conference room flanked by a terrace is located on the top floor of the building, while InnovationRCA, a hub for “enterprise, entrepreneurship, incubation and business support”, is housed on the two lower levels.

Immediately north of the Research Building, along Howie Street, is the Studio Building. The low-slung structure is topped by a sawtooth roofline and includes workshops and manufacturing facilities on the ground floor with three levels of studio space for postgraduate art and design students at the -above. “Designed as social and educational spaces for creative transfer and collaboration, the studios will also host temporary exhibitions and large-scale works,” the college explained.

a mid-rise building wrapped in white fins
Street view of research building. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

Featuring natural ventilation, natural lighting strategies, a rooftop solar panel and other sustainable design elements, the building received a BREEAM rating of “Excellent”.

Alongside the debut of the Battersea campus, RCA also unveiled its five-year strategic plan for 2022-2027, which “sets out its ambition to use interdisciplinary thinking to solve global problems, while continuing to attract the most talented faculty of the world, students, artists, designers and supporters. More information on this plan can be found here.

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