Founded in 1837, the Royal College of Art, or the RCA, is a public research institution in London, United Kingdom, with one out of three campuses across Battersea. In 2018, a £135m redevelopment project was realized to rebuild the Sculpture building at Battersea into an advanced and innovative Arts & Humanities building. Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron won the contract for this project – from a shortlist of six studios – in the 2016 competition for this brief and took charge of this design-build. Their concept was to build a communal connector that would promote traffic through the area and foster interaction among the RCA society, the community, and the city.
Constructed beside the previous premises, the new campus seeks to alleviate RCA’s 185-year-old history and intends to transform the humanities-based academy into a STEAM-focused institute, that is, science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. This new brutalist expansion consists of advanced facilities in the fields of intelligent mobility, complex visualization and data science, computer and materials science, advanced manufacturing, and robotics with the desire to align and expand the entrepreneurial and design thinking at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
Program and Planning
This 15,500 sqm expansion on a 4,370 sqm site is situated south of the existing buildings on the Battersea campus and offers studio spaces, as well as research areas. Herzog & de Meuron’s intent for this expansion was to promote accessibility and adaptability. The Battersea campus is designed as an adaptable and permeable platform wherein the curriculum has leeway for growth which can be translated through the modification of space. The studio and research buildings are intended to be self-contained communities that inspire exchanges between students, staff, and faculty. The spatial arrangement of programs at the street level along Howie Street forms a visual connection to the existing buildings of RCA.
The project can be categorized into three masses. Parallel to Howie Street sits the 97m long, four-story Studio building with “shopfront-style” windows, and along Parkgate road is an eight-level Research building. The lowermost level of both these masses constitutes the manufacturing and workshop facilities. The workshop spaces are distinct modules connected via circulation zones with the studio and research levels resting above it – which creates the opportunity for shaded walkways and seating spaces at the street level and terraces on the upper level.
Occupying the area between the studio and research building is Herzog & de Meuron’s “wow factor” of the building – a double-height, 350 sqm “Hangar” – that serves as a multifunctional space suitable for fabrication and presentation of large-scale designs, RCA gatherings, and public events. “The atrium is flanked by large fire-station doors and linked to public walkways that intersect the building. Herzog & de Meuron designed these passages to allow the public to enter and walk through the site, “reopening” the original Victorian street grid that once defined it” (Crook, 2022). There is also a smaller Robotics Hangar situated which facilitates various facets of research and development in the field of design engineering and robotics.
Herzog & de Meuron’s Battersea palette can be characterized as a contrast between the conventional and contemporary. The form incorporates traditional stock brickwork in Flemish bond for the workshop and studio building which gives the facade a rugged appeal. In contrast to this, modern, metallic, recycled aluminum fins demarcate and screen the research areas in the building. The brickwork pattern on the ground floor is reversed on the upper studio levels, revealing the cut ends of the header bricks and manufacturing marks through a unique texture.
The interiors can be condensed to a simple system of an 8m grid of concrete-filled steel tubes that uphold flat concrete slabs. The building services are kept exposed and suspended from the ceiling, and the interior furnishings celebrate RCA’s alumni. North-facing clerestory lights, as well as operable glazing and perforated facade treatment, offer views and ventilation. The building concludes with a saw-tooth roof held by minimal white steel columns; a design decision that mimicked the Dyson and Woo Battersea buildings.
In terms of the UK’s assessment of the building’s environmental performance, the Battersea architecture has claimed a BREEAM Excellent certification – BREEAM’s second-highest rating. With a projected design life of six decades, Herzog & de Meuron’s RCA campus is an environmentally efficient ecosystem, owing to the passive and low and zero-carbon technologies. The existing formwork has been re-used and concrete has been substituted with cement replacements wherever workable. Additionally, the building design advocates natural ventilation, daylight control, and insulation, coupled with resistant, low-maintenance materials. The thermal mass of the exposed concrete framework assists the heating and cooling of the building. Lastly, the roofing systems are a combination of ‘brown’ and ‘blue’ roofs that promote biodiversity and aid in rooftop runoffs. A “south-facing solar array” (Crook, 2022) also supports the energy requirements of the design.
“This wonderful new building embodies all that is best and most vital about the RCA – open, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and bold,” says Paul Thompson, vice-chancellor of Royal College of Art. Herzog & de Meuron has birthed an architectural marvel which is the culmination of education, entrepreneurship, and exploration, all whilst preserving the 185-year-old institution. A multitude of possibilities for innovation at the nexus of science, arts, and design have emanated from this adaptable expansion project.
- Crook, L. (2022). Herzog & de Meuron completes brick Royal College of Art building. [online] Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2022/05/24/herzog-de-meuron-royal-college-of-art/.
- Pintos, P. (2022). Royal College of Art / Herzog & de Meuron. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/982410/royal-college-of-art-herzog-and-de-meuron#:~:text=The%20project%20delivers%2015%2C500%20sqm.
- RCA (n.d.). Royal College of Art unveils new London campus designed by Herzog & de Meuron. [online] RCA Website. Available at: https://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/royal-college-of-art-unveils-new-london-campus-designed-by-herzog-de-meuron/.
- Wikipedia. (2021). Royal College of Art. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_College_of_Art.
- Williams, F. (2022). Herzog & de Meuron’s £135 million RCA Battersea campus building revealed. [online] The Architects’ Journal. Available at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/herzog-de-meurons-135-million-rca-battersea-campus-building-revealed.