Inside the Art Factory: Haworth Tompkin’s New RCA Building is a Dream Center for Creative Production | London Evening Standard

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The great thing about art students, says Graham Haworth, is that they learn by watching what others are doing. It forces them to come out of their shell.

Haworth is half of Haworth Tompkins, the multiple award-winning architects behind the £ 80million remodel of the National Theater and last year’s Stirling Prize winners for the Everyman Theater in Liverpool.

Now the first quarter has just started at the recently completed Woo Building at the Royal College of Art, the last part of Haworth Tompkins’ suite of structures on the Battersea campus of the Royal College of Art, a project that has opened in phases since then. that the architects won the competition. for the project in 2007. First was the Sackler building for painters, then the Dyson building and now the Woo building for jewelers, metalworkers, ceramists, printmakers and glassmakers, all at the end of the line. number 19 bus through the Thames mud.

Referring to Andy Warhol, Haworth describes the college’s collage of deliberately sturdy, industrial-inspired buildings on the site of a former bus garage as “an art factory.”

Creative hub: RCA’s Woo Building / Philippe Vil

Robust but refined in concrete, glass and steel, the organizing principle is the “horizontal drift”, where everyone can see what everyone is doing with the Woo Building forming, with the previous phase of Dyson, the long and high “machine room”, a huge space resembling a hangar around which the campus is organized and whose vocation is to promote interdisciplinary reflection.

This is where much of the heavy kit for postgraduate design students is located – iron printing presses, large molds for clay, things that burn, bake, chop and punch shaped materials. . Most of the student studios look out onto this glassed-in central courtyard, stairs leading from the drawing desks directly to the manufacturing areas: “Even if they don’t care about other students, they can see what’s going on”, explains Haworth.

On one side of the Woo, facing the Sackler building, is an outdoor courtyard. Here are the Hot Glass Studios where anyone can walk around and watch fascinating glassblowing lessons taking place inside the windows. Surrounding the exterior of the upper floors are offices for staff and, at the south end of the Woo, a stack of tall multi-purpose rooms with hi-tech language of bracing and balconies contained with a contoured metal cladding shell. – like a vintage Citroën, said Haworth.

Among RCA’s philosophies is the marriage of art and industry and the refusal to view any past technology as obsolete, so there is a mix of old and new – medieval looking tools. to shape metal alongside innovative digital printers that can create transfers using ceramic toners. . The massive wheel of an engraving press made for the 1851 World’s Fair – which David Hockney used to make his own rendition of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress in the Sixties – has its place alongside the latest computerized ovens.

The industrial aesthetic used in the architecture means that a dented metal closet brought back from the old RCA studios by Albert Hall fits in perfectly, bringing a bit of history with it (although there is now no leakage from the workshops to the Rector’s office, as sometimes happened in South Kensington). Other furnishings are, where possible, RCA alumni, including chairs and lighting from Barber & Osgerby.

Haworth Tompkins also took some architectural cues from the 60s RCA Tower in South Kensington by HT Cadbury-Brown – the dark tones of the masonry, for example, and a design approach that keeps the buildings low-key so that the work of the students himself can shine from walls and shelves.

The Sackler Building, an existing factory that was excavated and then redeveloped with booming studios and sawtooth paint studios to the north, also informed later phases of the new construction. After a few years of use, the Sackler has now acquired an arty patina of scuffs and smears. Haworth believes that students will not deliberately need to spill buckets of paint to give lived-in character, as they would with oak flooring in a new studio at the old RCA site.

RCA Woo Architects Steve Tompkins, left, and Graham Haworth / Haworth tompkins

The continued emphasis on tactility in craftsmanship is something that surprises him, however: “Our generation thought we were going to throw out crafts – everything was going to be computers.” But now, designer-makers are combining old school and digital. Haworth took an engraving course in order to understand the traditional process of metal, wax, acid bath and press.

But in other respects, the environment of these collegiate buildings is quite contemporary, especially in financial terms. Drastic funding cuts are forcing colleges to chase after deep-pocketed international students while those who stay at home face skyrocketing tuition fees. Across the UK and Europe, the expensive-to-run and space-consuming ceramic and glass undergraduate courses that power CAR’s top postgraduates are being closed.

Skills are being lost. The names of the buildings in Battersea are those of the sponsors whose contributions made the

Complex over £ 30million possible. The Woos, for example, are a family from Hong Kong interested in collecting ceramics.

But RCA is still not without its problems. These include the recent departure of many senior design staff, resulting in the cancellation of the first year of the lucrative and world-renowned Design Interaction Design course this academic year (not held at Battersea) , and complaints that the culture is increasingly business-oriented than experimental. Last year, South Kensington design students published an open letter expressing concerns about the “obvious and unwanted deterioration of education.” RCA rector Paul Thompson reportedly warned last month that the loss of tuition income had put the college in “unnecessary danger”.

The college is still trying to secure a Battersea site for its fashion and textile students after the preferred site between Studio Woo and Vivienne Westwood was snapped up for luxury apartments under its nose. The struggle for studio space for art and design also continues after graduation. As Rohan Silva pointed out in The Standard this month, 30% of artist studios are at risk of redevelopment by 2020, with catastrophic consequences for London’s economy. To prove Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrong – that there is a skilled alternative to working like Chinese drones – Haworth Tompkins is part of a team of architects working with the Peabody Housing Association to provide workshops affordable alongside affordable housing in new proposals for Hackney Wick (where, declare an interest, I was an advisor for the masterplan).

Meanwhile, Haworth says the struggle to keep art classes in London is “Darwinian” – survival of the fittest. He doesn’t think the firm will be involved in fashion building if that happens, but thinks they’ve defined the best model for the future: “We wanted a feeling of gravity and space, of height. Budgets make it difficult these days, but there is no substitute for it.


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