RCA, Dyson and Woo Buildings, 2015

an expansion of the Battersea Campus

The Royal College of Art is recognised as the world’s most influential, postgraduate university of art and design. The project created a new 8000sqm campus in Battersea, the most significant new development for the College since it moved to Kensington Gore in 1962. Five Fine and Applied Art departments are accommodated in two linked buildings; the concept was that of a large Art Factory, in the industrial sense (as a place of industry), and through the reference to Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ (as a place of art production) where the studios and workshops that support the creative processes are highly visible, arranged around a 50m long central glazed ‘machine hall’, which also forms the main circulation spine of the building.

The buildings contain the Printmaking, Photography, Ceramics & Glass and the Jewellery & Metalwork programmes, new business incubator units, a gallery and 220-seat lecture theatre. The building’s aesthetic is functional and derives from the way it is made with an in-situ concrete structure exposed throughout and used expressively to form a series of dramatic interlocking spaces.

The large steel and glass ‘machine hall’ links the two blocks and forms the heart of the building, designed to house large specialist equipment alongside spacious workshops, while studios, offices and common spaces are located on the three floors above.

A more public zone of retail and business space is arranged along the street frontage, clad in polished concrete, whilst the corner facing Battersea Bridge is cut away to give the RCA a public formal entrance to complement the more informal metal clad factory spaces behind. High-ceilinged top floor north lit studios are flooded with natural light from overhead skylights, and full height windows provide inspiring views of London.

The airy Gateway Studio is cradled by external steel trusses, which cantilever from the main Woo Building concrete frame, and marks the threshold into the site from Howie Street, with anodised aluminium gates designed by Max Lamb.

As a place where art is in a continual process of being made, one of the building’s principle functions was to act as a background to art and not assert itself as an ‘art thing’.

We wanted to create a building that could act as a 'tool' to support certain tasks, a bridge between ideas and their realisation, and to fit the user in a way that a functional article of clothing would, like an overall or smock – tough, flexible and loose fitting, but comfortable and rather elegant too.

Creating ‘horizontal drift’ between disciplines was an important aspect of the design proposals, as students learn by looking at and discussing others work, so the spaces are arranged to allow connectivity between different departmental spaces, and programmes are arranged in highly visible proximity to one another.

The building is highly serviced to cater for the Ceramics and Glass processes which have large industrial spaces for kilns, hot glass and plasterworks, spray booths and the like and the Metalwork processes which involve the whole range of traditional metalwork skills.

The fluid relationship between programmes is a key characteristic of the RCA's success and the building has been developed with programme heads to allow processes to take place in highly visible proximities to one another - three or four will be visible on each journey around the building and from the street outside.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas that is present and encouraged on the courses is enhanced through the additional inclusion of start-up incubator units for new businesses within the main building, blurring the boundary between the academic and the commercial. Innovation RCA provides business support and incubation services to help students and graduates protect and commercialise pioneering design-led technologies successfully.

Despite being highly serviced, the building is generally naturally ventilated giving the occupants control over their environments through the self-regulating scale of a 12 metre plan width for the main block. The studios and workshops make optimal use of the large glass areas in the façades and roofs to benefit from the available daylight, which saves energy and provides a connection with the constant natural change in lighting conditions.

“Haworth Tompkins have mirrored our educational aspirations. They have created vistas, walkways and cut-throughs that allow all the building’s very different occupants to interact in true RCA interdisciplinary style.” Paul Thompson, Rector


royal college of art

main contractor

VINCI CONSTRUCTION and wates construction


AECOM and davis langdon




Max Fordham



picture credits

philip vile, richard haughton, hélène binet, fred howarth

2016 — RIBA London Award: RCA Battersea
2016 — New London Award Education Winner: RCA Battersea
2016 — New London Award Mayor's Prize Commendation: RCA Battersea

Behind the scenes
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