The Royal College of Art has just completed the third (and for now) final phase of its Battersea campus development. The Woo building, which houses ceramics, glass-making, jewellery & metalwork, was designed, like the Dyson and Sackler buildings before it, by London-based architects Haworth Tompkins to be ‘containers’ for creativity.
‘We didn’t want to make the buildings themselves overtly intrusive,’ explains Haworth. ‘We wanted them to be in the background but provide fantastic height, spaces and daylight.’ This functional approach was in part inspired by that of Cadbury-Brown, the architect behind the 1960s Darwin Building on RCA’s original and still existing Kensington Gore campus, who famously said, ‘The building should act as a background to art and not assert itself as an 'art thing’.’
The Woo building shares the same factory or warehouse aesthetic, sawtooth roof and propensity for simple and functional materials – such as concrete, glass and metal - as the Dyson building before it (completed in 2012). It also connects to the latter via a triple-height glazed central ‘machine hall’ that has now doubled in length. The building is about ‘openness and transparency’ says Haworth and a dramatic bridge is now the crossing point between two buildings, allowing views into the spacious workshops and process spaces on both sides below.
Haworth Tompkins is known for collaborating with artists on many of their projects. On this occasion designer and former RCA graduate Max Lamb has created a set of gates between the Sackler and the Woo buildings that mark the main entrance to the campus. The gate's panels range in colour from dark to light grey to turquoise and dark blue and, in a nod to the metal-work activities going on within the building, are made out of anodised aluminium. 'We didn’t just want an artwork put on the building, we wanted it to actually be a piece of the building,' explains Haworth. There is space reserved for another artwork, this time on the Dyson building's roof looking out on to Battersea Bridge road, says Haworth. ‘We reinforced the corner structure and have planning permission.’ Whether the artwork is 'sculptural, kinetic or abstract' is not yet known. What is certain, however, is that the elegant industrial buildings below it will be an ideal canvas.