While it has been proved time and again that no one is indispensible, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling’s departure from the Royal College of Art in the summer next year will make a huge dent in the college line-up.
Having worked there in various guises for some 35 years – it will be 13 as rector – the eminent cultural historian has come to embody the RCA, blending a passion for design with broader cultural interests. He has chaired the Design Council and now makes headlines through his high-profile exploits as Arts Council chairman.
Meanwhile, the RCA goes from strength to strength. He was bold enough to invite the BBC in for an early reality TV exposé of dealings there, brought in design stars like Ron Arad and Nigel Coates to head various design departments and allowed newer disciplines such as digital design, now under Tony Dunn, to thrive.
His tenure has seen the RCA build its research capabilities, its links with industry and, through the Helen Hamlyn Centre, its involvement with inclusive design across all disciplines. It has built links with business education through Design London, the coming together of the RCA with London University’s Imperial College London and the Tanaka Business School.
Frayling will be a tough act to follow, but, this being academia, at least there is plenty of time to find a successor. So, who might it be?
Academic prowess is but part of the role of a rector these days, so it might be a communications guru, say. That could put RCA Professor Jeremy Myerson, director of HHC and a key player in Design London, firmly in the frame. But other contenders might include Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic or global activist John Thackara, whose input into the North East’s Dott 07 initiative has been exemplary.
Whoever it is – and we welcome your nominations – we hope that Frayling remains active in design. Publishing commitments notwithstanding, he is not one to shun the limelight and we need great champions of design.