The Royal College of Art opened the Woo building which will house teaching in Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal, at its Battersea campus yesterday (1 Oct).
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 new building was designed by award-winning architects Haworth Tompkins and is the final addition of the Battersea campus.
The Woo building adds 9% of additional space to the college estate, which includes campuses in Kensington and Battersea. Along with Dyson and Sackler, it completes Haworth Tompkins’ trio of buildings, which – with the earlier Sculpture building – make up the Battersea campus. The Woo Building mirrors the factory-inspired Dyson, with a triple-height, glazed central hall accommodating specialist equipment alongside spacious workshops, while studios, offices and common spaces are housed on the three floors above.
To celebrate the opening, site-specific gates have been commissioned from Design Products alumnus and prominent London designer Max Lamb. The gates are installed at the Howie Street entrance and 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 addition of the Woo Building promotes collaboration across programmes, leading to moments of cross-pollination as students from 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 the 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 Innovation RCA 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 Haworth Tompkins, says: “The Woo Building, with its new studios and workshops for Ceramics & Glass and Goldsmithing Metalwork & Jewelry, completes a complex of three buildings that we have designed for the RCA in Battersea. The concept for the Woo Building is that of a large Art Factory, where the studios and workshops that support the creative processes are highly visible, arranged around a central glazed machine hall, which also forms the main circulation spine of the building. The interconnected spaces create a place brim full with ideas from the world’s best creative talent and we can’t wait to see the new work that will be produced in the building.”
Dr Paul Thompson, rector of the RCA, adds: “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.”