RCA, Painting School, 2009

the first phase of a major new campus in Battersea for the Royal College of Art

The new Painting School is the first phase of a major new campus for the Royal College of Art in Battersea and provides new purpose-made accommodation for all the Painting students at the Royal College of Art to work together under one roof for the first time in over 10 years. The project is a conversion of a single-storey factory building, which has been transformed into a series of new daylit spaces under a dramatic new roof form. The new inserted structure provides the dual role of bracing the existing perimeter walls, as well as providing the free spans necessary for the large studios, and sits above the datum created by the existing brick walls. Shiny, metallic and industrial it contrasts strongly with the brickwork of the base.

The brief was to create contemporary purpose-built studios that matched the quality and character of the very best traditional painting studios in London, such as the generous Victorian studios at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which were previously occupied by the RCA, and the inspirational spaces by Sydney Smirke and Norman Shaw at the Royal Academy.

The new roof expresses the form of the north-facing roof lights but is predominantly mute, revealing little secondary scale or articulation. A sinusoidal metal profile was chosen to reinforce this concept, to capture light in a uniform way, and to enable the suppression of panel joint lines into a uniform homogenous surface. The roof form is broken at first-floor level where the main circulation gallery projects over the street in the form of a glass box that expresses both the main entrance and the organisation of the building around the central corridor.

The organisation of the studios is based on a simple arrangement of spaces: six double-height, top-lit studio spaces are arranged, in series, off a wide (2.6m) central corridor space, which also serves a row of side-lit studio spaces; a galleried mezzanine floor overlooking the double-height studios provides access to an upper level of smaller top-lit studios. A secure woodworking workshop that provides support facilities for exhibitions, framing and stretcher fabrication, and an open workshop for cleaning brushes are located at the north-end of the corridor.

The specially profiled roof allows much needed north light to be achieved throughout without direct glare from the sun, providing ideal studio conditions for painting. Daylight tubes, following the line of the roof glazing bars, replicate this effect when there is no natural light available. The building operates on the principle of natural ventilation based on air movement from low-level windows up to the circular roof vents in the apex of each roof bay.

There are no internal doors in the studio area and it is therefore possible to move freely from space to space and see paintings, drawings and art objects being worked on, the sights, smells and sounds of a dynamic working environment. During term time the building is a multilayered working and teaching environment and once a year is cleaned up into a pristine gallery space for Show RCA.

“Haworth Tompkins has established its own brand of hardwearing arts architecture in buildings that acknowledge the visceral, semi-industrial nature of art and theatre production.” Edwin Heathcote, The Architects Journal


royal college of art

Main contractor

life building solutions limited

Structural Engineer

price and myers LLP

services engineer

max fordham

quantity surveyor

gardiner & theobald

picture credits

hélène binet, philip vile, richard haughton, gerno michalke, katsuhisa kida, julian anderson

2010 — BCI Small Building Award (Shortlist): RCA Painting School
2010 — RIBA London Award: RCA Painting School

Behind the scenes
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