The Royal College of Art’s brawny brick campus in Battersea makes its public debut

The Brick is Back

The Royal College of Art’s brawny brick campus in Battersea makes its public debut

The Royal College of Arts's newest addition to its Battersea satellite campus, pictured on the left, is a large brick-faced studio and research building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy RCA)

Earlier this week, London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) formally unveiled its new studio and research complex in Battersea, a sprawling district on the ever-transforming south bank of the Thames best known for its landmark power station and namesake park.

The $169 million Battersea campus project, a Herzog & de Meurondesigned concrete behemoth clad in textured brick and glass, is described by the RCA as the “largest investment in transformational space” in its 185-year history and a development that “marks a critical point” in its gradual evolution into a “dynamic, STEAM-focused postgraduate university.”

Spanning nearly 170,000 square and featuring workshops, studio spaces, research facilities, and exhibition venues, the RCA’s flagship Battersea campus building will enable the storied London institution (the RCA is the only dedicated postgraduate art and design university in the U.K.) to expand into new fields of research and study—namely computer and materials science, robotics, advanced manufacturing, complex visualization and data science, and intelligent mobility, as the RCA detailed—while providing postgrads with the tools and know-how to tackle “some of the most pressing challenges of our times.”

design students in a large studio space
(Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

The new building is just south of several other facilities that comprise the RCA’s satellite campus in the nascent Battersea Creative Quarter, including a trio of structures designed by Haworth Tompkins: the Painting Building (née the Sackler Building), the Dyson Building, and the Woo Building, the last of which opened in 2015. In addition to its growing presence in Battersea, the RCA also maintains a historic campus in South Kensington and a School of Communication hub that opened in White City in 2017.

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

a brick building with a sawtooth 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 firm of the project:

“The RCA campus in Battersea is conceived as a porous and flexible ‘territory’ of platforms upon which the varied needs of the RCA curriculum are given space to change and grow, enabling the transformation of space as needed during this process. The studio and research buildings are designed as communities unto themselves – a place that encourages interactions 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 neighbourhood and wider city.”

Two conjoined volumes comprise RCA’s new Battersea addition, which replaces the old Sculpture Building. The new Rausing Research & Innovation Building features eight stories of “independent and confidential research space” for materials science, soft robotics, advanced manufacturing, intelligent mobility, AR and VR visualization, and more. A spacious, terrace-flanked seminar and conference facility is situated on the top floor while InnovationRCA, a hub for “enterprise, entrepreneurship, incubation, and business support,” is housed on the two levels below that. Resting on a squat brick base, the upper floors of the building are wrapped in white vertical fins.

a low slung brick building
Exterior view of The Hangar, a multifaceted event and exhibition space at the heart of the new building. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)
inside a cavernous gallery and event space
Inside the Hangar (Iwan Baan/Courtesy Royal College of Art)

To the immediately north of the Research Building along Howie Street is the Studio Building. The low-slung, factory-esque structure is defined, much like Herzog & de Meuron’s acclaimed Tate Modern extension, by its brickwork facade and a sawtooth roofline that matches back to those of Haworth Tompkins’s neighboring Painting and Dyson Buildings. On the ground-floor are workshops and manufacturing facilities topped by three levels of studios supporting postgraduate students enrolled in the Sculpture, Moving Image, and Contemporary Art Practice programs. “Designed as social and educational spaces of creative transfer and collaboration, the studios will also accommodate temporary exhibitions and large-scale works,” explained the college.

Anchoring the two distinct wings of the hulking complex is The Hangar, a roughly 3,800 square foot double-height “multifunctional activity space” with massive doors on both ends to allow for the installation of large and complex works of art. It’s joined by a smaller but similarly flexible space, the Robotics Hangar, which, true to its name, primarily serves as a venue for the research and testing of “intelligent mobility, design engineering, sculpture and robotics, with aerial and aquatic robotics,” according to a press announcement from the RCA.

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

Featuring natural ventilation, daylighting strategies, a rooftop solar array, and other sustainable design elements, the building has received a BREEAM “Excellent” rating.

Concurrent with the debut of the Battersea campus, the RCA also revealed its five-year strategic plan for 2022–2027, which “sets out its ambition to use interdisciplinary thinking to solve global issues, while continuing to attract the world’s most talented faculty, students, artists, designers and supporters.” More on that plan can be found here.