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Royal College of Art

A Grade II Listed Building in City of Westminster, London

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Latitude: 51.5013 / 51°30'4"N

Longitude: -0.1789 / 0°10'44"W

OS Eastings: 526497

OS Northings: 179617

OS Grid: TQ264796

Mapcode National: GBR 4H.0Z

Mapcode Global: VHGQY.VJ8F

Plus Code: 9C3XGR2C+GC

Entry Name: Royal College of Art

Listing Date: 11 July 2001

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1389259

English Heritage Legacy ID: 487894

ID on this website: 101389259

Location: Knightsbridge, Westminster, London, SW7

County: London

District: City of Westminster

Electoral Ward/Division: Knightsbridge and Belgravia

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: City of Westminster

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Holy Trinity South Kensington

Church of England Diocese: London

Tagged with: Building complex

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1900/84/10271 Royal College of Art


School for art and design. Designed 1956-9, built 1960-63 in three phases; architect H T Cadbury-Brown, in collaboration with Sir Hugh Casson and Robert Goodden. Reinforced concrete clad in dark red-brown brick intended to complement Norman Shaw's Albert Hall Mansions, then uncleaned, on the other flank of the Royal Albert Hall.

There are three linked blocks. Facing Kensington Gore is the Darwin Building (1960-1), of eight storeys, conceived as a rectangular block of flatted factories, with projecting staircases on the north and south elevations, that to the north with passenger lifts and that to the south with a goods lift, each serving spaces designed to be infinitely flexible. There is a central line of columns, and central service core. Floors 2, 4 and 6 are split level, and this is expressed externally, best seen in the contrasting fenestration patterns on the end elevations. Metal windows with opening casements and toplights set between concrete mullions, paired on the long elevations; rooflights on the eighth floor. The seventh and eighth floors are set back and are treated as a series of paired square penthouses, rather reminiscent of the contemporary work of Louis Kahn, with on the seventh and eighth floors a double-height glazed conservatory with gallery, now blocked in and used as two separate studios. The interior was designed to be extremely flexible about these fixed points, and lightweight partitions continue to be inserted and removed as required, in the spirit of the original brief. The building was designed to take extremely heavy loadings of industrial machinery, which is concentrated in the higher spaces. Each department has a core of offices, seminar room or rooms and computer rooms, with workshop spaces appropriate to its needs. Main staircases and internal stairs between levels have terrazzo flooring. Staircases with thick timber balustrades on steel upstands. Full-height glazed door, a distinctive Cadbury-Brown feature, on fourth floor. Otherwise the partitions, doorways and other internal features are not of special interest, and are designed to be moved as the College requires. The ground floor, or Henry Moore Gallery, was remodelled in 1986-7 by the RCA Project's Office, with an extension into the central courtyard and a shop designed by James Gowan. The basement hall and caf' are also of this date.

The Gulbenkian wing, or exhibition block, is a long, low building facing the Albert Hall. The entrance is defiend by two angled, projecting columns. Money for its construction was secured from the Gulbenkian Foundation and it was built in 1960-62. Blind brick facade with bold, strongly modelled concrete cornice and nearly flat zinc roofs. The interior was refurbished to provide extra exhibition space in 1989-90 by Colquhoun, Miller and Partners.

Behind, ingeniously angled to make the most of the tiny site, is a two-sided block of 1962-63. One side has the junior and senior common rooms set on successive floors over the administrative offices, the other the library. Dark brick elevations to Jay Mews, with exposed concrete floor beams and high concrete parapets. Central toplighting exposed at end, and continuous vertical staircase window to side, otherwise the windows are largely paired with black metal casements, shallow toplights and contrasting white spandrel panels. Internally, too, the ground-floor offices continue the idiom set by the Darwin Building, save that they are on the level of the basement, the slope in the site being used ingeniously to provide a second entrance in Jay Mews. The interiors designed to be endlessly flexible behind a central corridor with ceiling height doors. Staircase again of terrazzo, with more slender timber balustrading. Students' art bar, union offices, on first floor. Second-floor Senior Common room more richly designed, with interior attributed to Hugh Casson, though with the chunky timber detailing and high doors associated with Cadbury-Brown in the outer lounge and cloakroom areas. The suite serves as a showcase for the College's art collection, demonstrating the supreme importance of the RCA in twentieth-century art education. Canted library wing to side, originally of one storey over semi-basement, with canted full-height windows over shallow spandrels between varnished timber upstands. The interior was remodelled in 1997 when an extra floor was added in a delicate and sympathetic style. In the courtyard outside, a bust of Richard Burchett, former student and subsequently Rector of the College, originally installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1876 to the designs of Henrietta Montalban by colleagues and students, was brought here and re-erected when the College vacated its painting studios at the V and A.

The Royal College of Art was founded as a metropolitan School of Design in 1837 in Somerset House, and was re-established in 1851 by the Science and Art Department on part of the site now occupied by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Attempts to build it a suitably dignified permanent home go back to the years before the First World War, but it was only after the appointment of Robin Darwin in 1947 that a site was secured in Kensington Gore. Darwin revitalised the RCA as a centre for applied art and industrial design, and encouraged students to gain practical experience by installing industrial standard equipment such as ceramics and glass kilns, and paint spraying and printing machinery. In the early 1950s these workshops were established in the Imperial Institute, whose long, narrow galleries ensured that all the students had to walk through the other workshops to reach their own, and thus had an involvement with everything that was going on. The brief for the new building was to recreate this environment, with industrial floor loadings and maximum flexibility. Its design thus resembled the concept of the 'flatted factory' then being developed by the London County Council. Originally there was money only for the workshop building, but funding was secured in 1959 from the Gulbenkian Foundation for an exhibition gallery, and subsequently money was found for the block housing the common rooms and library.

Cadbury-Brown had started teaching in the sculpture department in the late 1940s under Frank Dobson, with a brief to explore the relationship between sculpture and architecture. He had been a friend of Hugh Casson's since their student days in the 1930s, Casson at the Bartlett School, Cadbury-Brown at the Architectural Association, and had met Robin Darwin and Robert Goodden in the War. Casson was Professor of Interior Design at the RCA, and Goodden Professor of Silversmithing and Jewellery, and they had already collaborated on the Festival of Britain, and on interiors for the HMS Canberra, Time and Life Building and Shell Centre. Goodden interviewed the various departments and outside industry to produce the brief; Casson was the spokesman in meetings with Darwin. The design, however, was Cadbury-Brown's.

Cadbury-Brown recognised that the Albert Hall lay on an established axis from the Memorial, through the Imperial Institute to the Natural History Museum. He felt that it should be the centrepiece of the line of buildings facing Kensington Gardens, and that his new building should reflect Norman Shaw's Albert Hall mansions on its other side. He chose a dark brick to match the dirt-encrusted brick and terracotta of these neighbours, and sought to mirror Norman Shaw's gables in the high workshops of the glass department to give an interesting silhouette to the top floor. The glass workshops under Lawrence Lee had just then achieved renown for its work at Coventry Cathedral, and demanded the biggest industrial kilns, so it got the greatest floor heights and most prestigious location. Cadbury-Brown says that the pairing of the high windows was a response to the 16'6" grid of the building, developed from the size of a brick, but that he knew and admired Louis Kahn's work at New Haven (his wife, Betty, who assisted with the detailed drawings, is American) with which there are similarities. Otherwise the brief was for an industrial building. Cadbury-Brown produced a plan with varying floor heights around a central spine that housed the service ducts and lifts, which is expressed externally in the set-back, unglazed central bay of the narrow side elevations. By contrast the glazed stairwells on the long elevations project slightly. Additionally, the top floor has a south-facing conservatory on its top floor, filled with plants and birds to inspire the ceramic designers.

The exhibition block is a long, low building facing the Albert Hall. The entrance is defined by two angled, projecting columns. Behind it, at an angle, a highly glazed library links it to the common room block and principal lecture theatre. The Senior Common Room retains the finest interior, though despite its sophisticated timber finishes this like the rest of the building was intended as a neutral space for the display of works of art. Despite alterations the building retains its powerful presence, fulfilling Cadbury-Brown's aim of an architecture he describes as `lean and spare'. It also well reflects the building's industrial function, and he suggests that Casson and Goodden left the design to him to ensure it had a `gritty' feel. Like Cadbury-Brown's own house and his lecture block at Essex University it has a meticulous geometry which sets it apart from the other, generally mundane, buildings of the time constructed for technical subjects. Ian Nairn described the RCA as having 'the greatness and staure that so many of the physically great new buildings in London so conspicuously lack'.

Interbuild, March 1959, pp.12-13
Architects' Journal, 5 March 1959, pp.366-368
Ark, 1961, p9.18-19
Architectural Design, November 1962, pp.510-521
Architectural Review, October 1962, pp.243-249; 275-278
Architects' Journal, 15 January 1964, p.157-161
Architect and Building News, 9 June 1965, pp.1079-1092
Ian Nairn, Modern Architecture in London, 1964, p.47
Survey of London, vol.38, South Kensington, the Museums Area, 1975, pp.260-1
Cherry and Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West, 1991, p.494
Information from the Royal College of Art

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