The opening of the Woo Building, a significant expansion of the Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal department, marks the completion of the Royal College of Art (RCA)’s highly anticipated Battersea Campus, bringing all of the RCA’s fine art programmes together at a single site for the first time in the institution’s history.
The Woo Building completes architects Haworth Tompkins’ trio of buildings, which also include the Dyson and Sackler buildings. Along with the earlier Sculpture building, these new facilities contribute to making the RCA’s Battersea campus one of the most innovative and unrivaled places of study and practice in the world.
The Woo Building is named in honor of Sir Po-Shing and Lady Helen Woo, who have a long-established relationship with the College, having funded scholarships for ceramics, glass, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery students since the early 1990s. The building also received funding from The Wolfson Foundation and Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement.
The exterior of the Woo Building
To celebrate the opening, site-specific gates have been installed at the Howie Street entrance to allow pedestrian and vehicle access. Fabricated from anodised aluminium, which is coloured to form a striking gradient from light grey, through vibrant turquoise to deep shades of navy, they have been designed to echo the architectural details of the building as well as the activities that will be taking place within it.
Haworth Tompkins worked in close collaboration with the academics, technicians and students who will be using the space and considered every facet of the building in relation to the programmes’ specific needs. For example, large glass doors that open freely surround the glass furnace workshop, allowing students to step outside to cool down. A new ceramics laboratory that is unique to the RCA has been installed together with a state-of-the-art kiln room containing kilns for a wide range of activities from large-scale sculpture to small gas fired kilns for test and research work.
The Jewellery & Metal programme is housed on the top two floors of the Woo Building. The expansive, high-ceilinged studios are flooded with natural light from overhead skylights and windows that provide an inspiring view of London. Unlike the Ceramics & Glass workshops, which allow students to weave through openly, the Jewellery & Metal workshops are housed in clearly defined spaces as many of the making processes are incompatible and need to be contained.
The Woo Building promotes collaboration across programmes, as Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal work in close proximity to each other and the School of Fine Art.
The flow and shape of the building allows the cross-disciplinary interactions and connections across disciplines that are central to what makes RCA education so transformational for students and researchers. Students from the Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal programmes will also benefit from the proximity of the metal foundry housed in the Sculpture Building, which is a rarity in London’s art schools.
The influx of ceramicists, glassmakers, jewellers and metalworkers will mix with Battersea’s fast-evolving creative scene as they join RCA Fine Art students and InnovationRCA start-up companies, along with international designers, artists and architects including Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham, Will Alsop and Foster + Partners, who all have creative studios in Battersea.
Graham Haworth, Director of Haworth Tompkins, said: “The Woo Building is the final addition to the Battersea campus, for which we have designed three buildings in total. As with the other buildings, we wanted the Woo to promote collaboration across disciplines, enabled by the flow and shape of the design. This is a very exciting moment for us. We have been working closely with the RCA for over seven years to develop world-class facilities for a broad range of artistic practices. We hope these buildings will continue to support and inspire students long into the future, and further reinforce the RCA’s reputation as one of the world’s leading centres for art and design.”
Dr Paul Thompson, Rector of the RCA, said: “Thanks to the generous support of Sir Po-Shing and Lady Helen Woo, the opening of the Woo Building marks a significant moment for the RCA. Haworth Tompkins have created a remarkable space that not only incorporates practically designed state-of-the-art studios and workshops, but also fosters the kinds of connections and collaborations across disciplines that make life at the RCA so rich and rewarding. The addition of the Woo Building to our estate enables us to continue to provide the space and facilities that will attract the very best graduate artists and designers to study with us.”