Founded in 1837, the Royal College of Art is the UK’s leading school of art. Its South Kensington campus contains studios, offices and a library originally designed in the early 1960s by the distinguished Modernist architect, H.T. Cadbury-Brown. Over time, as the College expanded, space became confined on the site and the College was led to contemplate its options for redevelopment.
Extensive demolition and rebuilding was ultimately rejected in favour of a less invasive and more nuanced proposal by Wright & Wright. Initially, the College had been advised to build two new floors on top of the existing Cadbury-Brown library, but Wright & Wright proposed reorganising the building so that the brief could be accommodated within only one extra floor. As a result, two mature trees were preserved, together with memorable views out to the neighbouring Albert Hall.
In the Library’s original arrangement, books and readers were crowded together, with the potential for distraction, as people sought out books around those trying to study. In the remodelling, readers are seated in study spaces at the windows, while books are located in the depth of the plan, shelved in bespoke oak bookcases.
Wright & Wright have a well earned reputation, among architectural critics and public alike, for designing buildings which are appropriate to their surroundings and which are innovative and modern in their visual impact: a very unusual combination these days.
Professor Sir Christopher Frayling
Former Rector, The Royal College of Art
The constraints of an inaccessible site prompted some inventive construction techniques. The steel frame was lifted into place in a single day, followed by smaller, lightweight elements that could be easily manhandled on site. The new part is clad in lead, giving the remodelled building its distinctive form and substance.
Wright & Wright were delighted when the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, then a member of the RCA teaching staff, looked down from his studio and observed that it resembled a sculpture casting.