Royal College Of Art

Design of the RCA

Design drawing for the Royal College of Art c.1955-60

Pen and coloured crayon on tracing paper, by Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson
Designers: Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson (1910-1999), Henry Thomas Cadbury-Brown (1913-2009), and Robert Goodden (1909-2002)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Designed between 1955 and 1960, the RCA building was planned as three blocks. Although they are all strikingly different to the neighbouring Victorian structures, the designers took care to be as complementary as possible.

The main workshop block was limited in height to balance Norman Shaw’s Albert Hall Mansions, which sits on the opposite side of the Royal Albert Hall. The regular but broken skyline of the building was also designed to reflect the gables of Shaw’s mansion block, and dark brick cladding was chosen to mirror the then un-cleaned red brick of Shaw’s buildings and the Royal Albert Hall.


The entrance block, whose design was heavily contributed to by Cadbury Brown’s wife, Elizabeth, was kept deliberately low to allow views of the Royal Albert Hall from the college. The low entrance to the RCA and its close proximity to the hall can be seen clearly in this beautiful sketch, a typical work by Sir H. M. Casson who was a talented draughtsman.


Casson and his fellow designers, H.T. Cadbury Brown and R.Y. Gooden, were staff members of the RCA, and as such they had a critical understanding of the needs of the college. The interior treatment was intended to be flexible and unobtrusive.

Studios opened into workshops, and corridors were avoided where possible. The reinforced concrete construction of the main structure allowed the designers to split the building along its axis, giving different ceiling heights at the front and back. Natural lighting from more than one direction in each room was also adopted where possible.