RCA seeks to upgrade facilities

The Royal College of Art is seeking to dramatically improve its public and teaching facilities with the announcement of two building projects.

The London postgraduate college is seeking 9m Lottery funding to extend its galleries and lecture theatres.

A 12m scheme has been drawn up by Su Rogers, the original architect of the interiors. The plan is for building to start in summer next year with completion scheduled for summer 2000.

A decision by the Lottery people is expected in May, while new RCA development officer Sally Mason will seek to raise the 3m shortfall through private sponsors.

“We want to be a world centre for exhibitions in the main disciplines of the college,” says RCA rector Professor Christopher Frayling of the bid. “We want to be on the map for touring shows.”

In a separate move, the RCA has set up an Estates Strategy Committee chaired by property expert Sir Idris Pearce, who was appointed to RCA Council last March. The honorary committee has been briefed to address the college’s cramped teaching space and come up with proposals in June.

Setting up a second site hasn’t been ruled out, says Frayling. “It’s science fiction at the moment,” he adds, but “the trick is to keep art and design together.”

“I’m determined to crack the space problem in my term of office,” says Frayling, who has completed two years of a five-year contract.

The future finances of the RCA are meanwhile assured, following several months of discussion with the Higher Education Funding Council.

The college, which faced threats of its 12m budget possibly being halved six months ago, has won level funding with last year for the next academic year. A 5 per cent cut in 1999/2000 will provide the baseline “for the foreseeable future”, says a triumphant Frayling. Of the 12m, 8m comes from the public purse and 4m from private funding.

The deal with the HEFC was struck on 22 December, but only confirmed a week ago. “It was High Noon time,” says Frayling. “It was very scary and would have been the death of the RCA as we know it (had the cuts gone through).”

The deal has “resolved a complication” that has been around since 1967 when the RCA received the Royal Charter. With the cost per student running at 126 per cent above the national average, it is one of the UK’s most expensive educational establishments, but has now been acknowledged as an anomaly, in line with music and other specialist colleges, and not geared to “mass-producing” graduates.

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