Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A major overhaul for the Royal Academy of Arts campus

In 2018 the Royal Academy of Arts will celebrate its 250th anniversary by opening up the campus of the Royal Academy between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens.

The overall aim is to create a place that people want to come to - and not just a place where people come to see exhibition. The idea is to have an animated campus of cultural activity in the centre of London throughout the year. A place to visit even if, like right now, there is no major exhibition in the main galleries.

The design solutions for the Redeveloping the RA project have been created by the internationally-acclaimed architect David Chipperfield RA.

The two RA buildings occupy a site which is the same size as that occupied by the British Museum i.e. huge!

However they are currently separated by 15 metres of land. The new project will unite the two buildings using a new link bridge and overhauling a spinal route through the buildings which bisects the two.

A slice through the centre of the two buildings - along the spine - looking west
Burlington House on the left (and Piccadilly off screen further left) and Burlington Gardens on the right
RIGHT CLICK to see a larger version
The RA has twice had a go at connecting the two buildings prior to this and didn't succeed in finding an acceptable and affordable solution.

This time they have - although it's taken seven years to get this far!  Part of which involved an application for a £12.5 Heritage Lottery grant - which they got - and part of which involved yet more fund-raising. However the contract has now been left and works are starting on site.

Below is David Chipperfield explaining the link in his presentation.

The pink areas are the public spaces affected by the changes to make the link.
RIGHT CLICK to see a larger version
This is the design for the new bridge - which will form the link between the two buildings - and a new School Yard underneath for the RA Schools students.

RA School Yard underneath link bridge
Below is what the space looks like at present - which makes this new development a huge improvement!

This is THE CURRENT GAP between the two buildings
David Chipperfield explains the context for the new School Yard and Link Bridge
The movement though Burlington House will use the existing corridor which leads down to the Schools - which currently looks like this (see below). It's actually a fine vaulted brick lined corridor which can, with removal of all the pipework and cabling be brought back to something which will be a pleasure to walk down - AND provide another place where artwork can be shown

The steps down to the spine of Burlington House
which leads down to the RA Schools and the Cast Corridor.

The Cast Corridor in the RA Schools area 
This will be bisected by the new spinal route - but will be visible behind a glass door
This will also make the RA Schools a much more visible presence within the building.
One of the bonuses from my perspective is that the changes will give the RA Schools a much higher profile within the overall campus.

At the moment they are completely hidden away and most people don't know or even think about them. This is despite the fact that:
  • the RA Schools provide the only 3 year education in art within higher eduction in the UK which is entirely FREE to the students
  • the revenue derived from the Summer Exhibition each year is used to provide the free education provided within the RA Schools.
The educational aspects of the RA will also get a much higher profile. There will be:
  • a new Clore Learning Centre, providing space for the RA’s ambitious learning programmes
  • a double-height lecture theatre with over 260 seats - which I'm sure will provide much better accommodation for the programme of lectures and talks given by the RA throughout the year
  • new spaces for the RA Schools, including a permanent project space for the public display of work by students
Design for a Clore Learning Centre for educational activity with children
The new Lecture Theatre on the Burlington Gardens side
It has a capacity of between 250-300 for lectures and talks.
As well as creating much better movement between the two buildings the RA is also taking the opportunity to create much improved facilities for learning and exhibitions ! There will also be new and dedicated spaces for contemporary art projects and new work by Royal Academicians

This gallery is capable of being top lit.
Finally the front of house activities get a thorough overhaul and the new front of house facilities will inhabit a much bigger space.  Basically everything gets pushed back to create a much large front foyer in the Burlington House side and the ticketing and the loos and the cloakroom are all moved back and stop feeling like they were squeezed in. No longer will there be endless queues in tiny places for "the facilities"!

People visiting the RA in the next three years are going to notice that work is happening but the good news is that both the exhibitions programme and the learning programme are going to be running "at full tilt" during the works. That's because virtually all the work is about infrastructure rather than exhibition space.

At the end of it, there will also be another front door into the RA - this time from the Mayfair side.

The new entrance from the north and Burlington Gardens
You can walk up the steps and walk right the way through the building.
The gatekeeping to the ticketed exhibition areas will be different levels to the main spine route through.
I think it's a very exciting project and will result in a great deal more activity within the site all year round.

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