The Battersea South Campus is an expansion of the Royal College of Art in Battersea, and planned as the new centre for the 180 year-old institution. The project delivers a formula for education, research, and entrepreneurship that explores the creative possibilities at the intersection of science, the arts, and design, and strengthens the culture of design innovation and entrepreneurialism at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
Our proposal is composed of a ground floor base of workshops and manufacturing facilities, supporting the low-rise 3-storey Studio Building that runs along Howie Street, and a taller 8-storey Research Building facing Parkgate Road. The design and massing are a result of methodical analysis of the site constraints as well as the very specific requirements of the RCA brief, while also directly addressing the surrounding townscape. The project is a flexible architectural solution that adapts to the constantly changing programmes of teaching and research.
Workshops are the nucleus of activities at RCA. They occupy the ground floor and are arranged as a platform of interconnected ‘houses’ – based on the local street pattern and building plots – with gaps between that form inner streets and allow for views through the site. These volumes have large windows that reveal the activity within. They are formed from textured brickwork, sculpted in places to become a public bench, and with an open brickwork pattern in other areas to provide natural ventilation to the workshop interiors. The ground floor also incorporates a portion of Radstock Street, forming a double height enclosure that connects the studios with the workshops. This “Hangar” is a flexible space for the production and display of large-scale work, and has the capacity to gather the school population in one place.
The Studio Building provides a series of three terraced floorplates of approximately 2000 m² each. These long, practically uninterrupted spaces deliver a flexible studio layout and can be adapted to a range of uses. Acting like a public street, these floorplates are social and educational spaces, encouraging communication and collaboration between disciplines. The first floor of the Studio Building is an overhanging masonry volume providing shelter to the ground floor of Howie and Elcho Streets, with high-level clerestory windows and low-level ventilation openings behind the open brickwork pattern. On the second and third floors, the internal concrete floorplates are expressed and extend to create continuous external galleries, providing shade, ventilation, and an outdoor connection for the studio spaces, enclosed by desk-height masonry spandrels with continuous strip glazing, and a series of high-level ventilation panels. The brickwork from the ground floor is maintained as the principal facade material for the overhanging volumes, with its tone and pattern detailed specifically to its place in Battersea. The roof of the Studio Building is composed of two Northwest-facing mono-pitch roof lights, similar to the roofs of the existing campus buildings, and visibly marking the RCA campus in Battersea.
The Research Building connects to the Studio Building at the ground floor base, and is organised above as a discrete stack of eight 500 m² floorplates, each with its own independent and secure research department. This stacking produces a vertical landmark for the RCA on Parkgate Road, and is visible from different approaches including Battersea Park. The Research Building envelope is a composition of dense white vertical brise-soleil fins that distinguishes it from the horizontality and tonality of the Studio Building. The arrangement, geometry and density of the vertical fins are informed by the inner organisation of the floor plates and the shading requirements for each facade.
The primary structure of the workshop, studio, and research spaces is a combination of steel circular columns and flat concrete slabs, with concrete circulation cores housing stairs and freight lifts. The materiality of the RCA Battersea Campus is simple, robust, and essential to its function as a flexible container space that can adapt to different programmes and modes of working.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2018