Haworth Tompkins' new Painting Department for the Royal College of Art
The new Sackler Building 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. From the very first conversations, the aim was to create contemporary purpose built spaces that matched the quality and character of the very best traditional painting studios in London, such as the generous Victorian studios at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) or the inspirational spaces by Sydney Smirke and Norman Shaw at the Royal Academy.
The Sackler Building is the first phase of the RCA’s plan for a major new campus in Battersea, also designed by Haworth Tompkins. The campus will eventually house the Schools of Fine Art and Applied Art, and also provide accommodation for start-up units for new businesses in the fields of art and design as well as a gallery and 220-seat lecture theatre.
The Painting Department is not an academy and there is no common or dominant theme. Students set their own agendas and the Royal College of Art prides itself on its diversity and pluralism, regarding painting as a discourse as well as an activity. The type of accommodation needed to support this is highly specialised and the department established clear briefing guidelines before design work began. The overall objective was to unite students on one site, providing a minimum of 46 studio spaces with capacity for expansion to 60, with spaces of varying scale and character.
The Sackler Building was always conceived as a conversion; the old building - a single story factory - has been transformed into a series of new day lit spaces under a dramatic new roof form, by inserting a new independent steel structure within the existing brick enclosure. This has significantly increased the height of the building, providing several double height, 7m high studios along with a mezzanine level, which houses a number of smaller top lit, 3.5m high studios, whilst retaining a predominantly open plan environment. 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. The large studios are almost cubes: 8m x 7.5m in plan and 7m high, and can be subdivided into as many as 6 individual studio spaces if required.
The organisation of the studios off a generous corridor, is a traditional art school plan arrangement and echoes the typology of both the Royal Academy and V&A where this device provides a social space and temporary exhibition venue, a space that everyone moves through past the work of other students, past and present.