Royal College Of Art

Royal College of Art

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

Detail of the design for the Royal College of Art, London c.1955-60
Pen and coloured crayon on tracing paper
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections

Just as with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the origins of the Royal College of Art (RCA) came from the 1830s movement for popular education in industrial design.

Origins of the RCA

The RCA began life in Somerset House in 1837 as the Metropolitan School of Design. In 1857 it was renamed the Normal Training School of Art and moved to South Kensington under the Science and Art Department, where it shared a site with the new South Kensington Museum.

In 1863 it became the National Art Training School and moved into new buildings at the back of the museum. The next significant step in the college’s history was the renaming of it in 1897 to the Royal College of Art.

The move to Kensington Gore

By the early 20th century the college was running out of space. Various proposals were put forward for a new building. In 1951 the current site in Kensington Gore was assigned to the RCA but a design was not chosen until 1959.

The site given was an excellent one, facing Hyde Park and between the Royal Albert Hall and Queensgate. For the first time it meant that all the college departments and administration could be brought together on one site (although the college has now since expanded further and this is no longer possible).

The RCA designs its own building

As at South Kensington Museum, the RCA used some of its own staff members to design the building: Henry Thomas Cadbury-Brown, who taught in the sculpture department; Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson, then Professor of Interior Design; and Robert Gooden, Professor of Silversmithing and Jewellery.

The building they came up with is a striking structure, very much of the late 1950s-60s. It was a brave move for both the designers and Westminster Council, sitting amongst the Georgian white stuccoed terraces and the red-brick Victorian buildings of South Kensington. The RCA building was listed Grade II in 2001, recognising the building as a very fine example of a high-quality cultural institution of the 1960s.