Interiors alumni air concerns at RCA course ‘downgrade’

Concerns are being aired by senior interiors figures about the status of interior design at the Royal College of Art, as they initiate a campaign to change its standing against architecture.

It is believed that a letter is being circulated among eminent alumni of the RCA postgraduate course for architecture and interior design, calling for a greater dedication to interiors. The intention is that they sign the letter before it is sent on to RCA rector Professor Sir Christopher Frayling.

An early draft of the letter seen by Design Week conveys fears among alumni that the role of interiors is being substantially reduced or even dropped at the college. Frayling, who was not aware of the letter as DW went to press, denies that interior design has been cut from the course. However, he concedes it may have been downgraded – or may have been perceived to have been downgraded by the interiors community.

The course changed its name from Architecture and Interiors to Architecture 18 months ago, at the behest of course leader Nigel Coates. Frayling admits that this change may have had ‘a symbolic effect within the interiors community’, with interior design ‘downgraded maybe, axed no’.

However, the draft letter to Frayling remarks on a long-standing strain between the disciplines: ‘The tension between interior and architectural territories within the school has been present since the inception of the architecture course […] Perhaps this allows for an opportunity to establish a separate interiors course, free from the difficulties of this now-curtailed cohabitation,’ it says.

Students are still drawn from various backgrounds – including interior design – and the name change has not changed the composition of applicants, claims Frayling. Those who have studied architecture Part 1 at an undergraduate level are qualified with Part 2 on graduation; students from other backgrounds receive an MA. RCA interiors graduates include Ben Kelly, David Bentheim and Julian Powell Tuck.

• Department of Interior Design established in 1951, with Hugh Casson as Professor; School of Architecture disbanded in 1953
• Course name changed to Environmental Design in 1972
• Teaching of architecture brought back into curriculum by Professor John Miller in 1975
• Architecture and Interior Design run as separate courses in 1985
• Dinah Casson takes over as course leader in 1993 and amalgamates both courses into Architecture and Interiors
• Nigel Coates appointed as Professor in 1995 and remains in post; course renamed Architecture in 2005

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  • sarah harkins November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I wholeheartedly support the claim for a more interiors dedicated course – I graduated (or convocated as they like to call it) from the RCA in 1996. I was lucky enough to get a place in 1994 on the Architecture and Interior course – it was exactly what I wanted – allowing a huge amount of freedom to explore and experiment the whole spatial world – without boundaries or being ‘unitised’ as so many other architecture schools do. There was a great atmosphere and Dinah Casson and all the other staff were incredibly inspiring. But a few of the architecture students felt differently and forced the issue of appointing an actual Professor of Architecture. This caused huge ructions and eventually Nigel Coates was appointed. This was not an ideal situation halfway through undertaking a Masters Degree. Of course the choice of new professor was received with feelings. Some of the architects left and the rest of us stayed hoping to finish what we started. This wasn’t the case and he formed a series of units that we had to sign upto. It was badly conceived and executed and quite frankly ruined my final year, and I’m probably not alone in saying that. Since leaving I have attended some of the shows – but just to witness the emergence of a mini-NATO instead of architecture and interiors show. Nigel Coates is a talented guy but -HOW DULL – there’s no individualism or character showing through – AT ALL. I think it’s high time that the interiors course was represented in a way that is true to the students – after all – if we’d wanted to be pure architects, then that’s probably what we would have studied from the start.

  • Christopher Radcliffe November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    There is no such thing as a ‘pure Architect’. Unless that is, you include termites, ants and any other creatures/insects which inhabit this earth and architect (rather than build) nests. Their pure architecture exists out of need for a physical structure to house a social structure. They are pure architects with no influences from elders who have assumed the role as mentor, they just work on instinct.

    Architects coming through the schools have far more superficial issues to deal with, such as aesthetics, fashion, personal monuments, fame and fortune, the latter only applying to several in any given decade – the Sir and Lord crowd.

    The trouble with architecture ‘teachers’ is that they watch too much TV and believe that interior designers all want to be LL Bowen or that other Grand Design K McCloud. Not true. Many desigers, no, dare I say most designers, just want to design GOOD environments in which to work, play, live, have sex, eat (not at the same time!), drink, dance, be received, shop, conduct financial transactions, have their hair done….. experience and phew! Enjoy.

    Surely that is what Architects want, isn’t it? That’s what ants want… I’ve seen the film!

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