Royal College of Art

Royal College of Art

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The Royal College of Art today unveiled plans for its biggest expansion in its 182-year history.

All across Britain, falling applications are causing universities to ‘streamline’ their courses. Mainly this process consists of the ruthless culling and dumbing down of art subjects which, obviously, don’t fit into the new concept of STEM subjects as a cross between the Holy Grail and a silver bullet. A notable exception to this trend has been the venerable 182-year old Royal College of Art, which far from shuttering programs is embarking on the largest expansion plan in its entire history. The multi-million pound plan will see the full refurbishment of the College’s Grade-II listed Kensington headquarters along with the opening of a ‘huge’ new building in Battersea, alongside a raft of new premises including a research tower, fashion studios, robotics laboratories and a double-height hangar. The college, home to 2,300 staff, will push its intake up to 3,000 students, with new privately funded scholarships opening access. The drive behind the decision is grounded by the fact that, against the national grain, the RCA’s admissions have skyrocketed by 12 percent in the last five years.

Of the 40 million needed for the five-year programme, which has been dubbed the vaguely sci-fi sounding GenerationRCA, over 70 per cent of the £40 million it needs from private philanthropy, including a one-off £15 million donation from London-based philanthropist Sigrid Rausing. **GenerationRCA** is being marketed as an attempt to bring the institution back in line with its more radical founding principles as a ‘radical traditionalist in a fast paced world’.  When the College was first founded, it was intended as an educational response to the rapid changes thrown up by the then current industrial revolution. With the growing pains of the industrial age now behind us [in this country at least, the school is pivoting to become relevant to the real revolutions taking place in the 21st Century, both digital and economic.  

The RCA’s stated aim is to “transform the accepted paradigm of an art and design university”, with a focus on placing artists and designers alongside scientists and engineers at the outset of their research rather than as an afterthought. The university is planned to run as a truly multi-disciplinary institution, dramatically striking into new territory for art institutions. For example some of the new programmes unveiled are focused on nano and soft robotics, computer science and machine learning, materials science and the circular economy; not exactly art student stereotypes. All of these planned re-imaginings are only made possible by the new building and campus designs which provide the space for this more tech intensive future. Whilst many  institutions are fading in the harsh light of the 21st Century, the Royal College of Art seems to be meeting the times head on.

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