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AcrossRCA 2015 Fosters Interdisciplinary Collaboration

In November 2015, Royal College of Art MA students worked alongside their peers from different programmes to participate in AcrossRCA. A weeklong programme of workshops and events that fosters collaboration between disciplines, AcrossRCA featured 24 interdisciplinary projects led by students, staff and guests. 

The activity spread across the Kensington and Battersea Campus, as well as external venues and partners including Prince’s Traditional Arts School, Imperial College London, UK Sport in London, and a number of international universities.

Central to AcrossRCA is a commitment to supporting interdisciplinarity by providing students with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with peers outside of their programmed curriculum. Project leaders present innovative and engaged platforms that combine interests and expertise from a variety of backgrounds, and encourage partakers to make use of their diverse backgrounds to strengthen and expand each others skill-sets.

This year, students engaged with fellow participants on different projects ranging from dance performance, generating a James Joyce-inspired twitter-driven narrative of London, and investigating the principles and practices of creative education, amongst many others. Upon conclusion, the outcome of various projects was exhibited on site at the RCA in the Senior Common Room, and the Courtyard and Hockney galleries.

One external collaborator was UK Sport in England, who hosted a workshop called Designing ‘Faith’. The workshop was run by Glenn Hunter, who is the organisation’s head of athlete health, where he develops innovations to enable Olympic and Paralympic athletes to perform optimally on the world stage. Glenn is currently undertaking a PhD at the RCA, in which his research focuses on optimal design as a means to maximise athlete confidence. These concerns and expertise were core to Designing ‘Faith’: contributors examined the relationship between design process, user confidence and trust, within the context of sport.

Walkative3 took London as its starting point, with a keen interest in movement and the traverse: the project was a physical exploration of how the city contains narratives, knowledge and contested materialities that are best accessed through walking. The project was led by Dr Jaspar Joseph-Lester (RCA), Simon King (EAP), Dr Roberto Botazzi (RCA) and Dr Amy Blier-Carruthers (Royal Academy of Music), and builds on the success of two previous AcrossRCA ‘walkatives’ (2013, 2014). Jaspar describes the ethos of the project: ‘through bringing together a new interdisciplinary field of artists, writers, architects, musicians, human geographers and philosophers, we consider how the city walk can inform and trigger new processes of making, thinking, researching and communication’. 

The walks were led by expert contributors from a wide range of disciplines, and both guests and students involved were invited to contribute writing and images to the project’s ongoing blog. One participant, Bucky Miller, particularly enjoyed the stimulating and memorable array of experiences: 'Each walk was enriching and education in its own unique way. I'll be thinking about those days for a while.' The materials gathered will form the basis for a new illustrated book, Walking Cities: London, published by Camberwell Press, 2016.

With a similar interest in the embodied experience of London as a rich and living urban narrative, Meta Londoners focused on the experience of urban space through theatre and social networks. Under the guidance of Dr Laura Ferrarello, Benjamin Koslowski and Jimmy Tidey (all RCA), the project used ideas around narrative to link representations of experience across digital and physical space: each group imaginatively inhabited part of London to play out, via Twitter, the experience of a fictional character within a particular environment. Throughout the week, invited guests ran workshops on data visualisation, storytelling through urban space and Twitter, as well as playwright techniques. 

Partakers considered the reconstructive possibilities of fictional narrative with regards to city-dwelling, as well as what kind of props – textual, visual, tangible – might support and embody such an approach. Bethnal Green Brixton and Hampstead were explored by means of live tweets and Periscope: fiction and reality merged as students embodied their constructed character to become part of the story. Groups produced maps to be exhibited alongside their narratives at the end of the week before a jury of professionals including Dr Catherine Souch, Head of Research from the Royal Geographic Society, and Dr Adam Kaasa, researcher in Architecture (RCA) and new director of Theatrum Mundi

Moving from exterior to interior, in One Another: Empathy and Experience, Dr Katie Gaudion and Dr Dan Lockton (both RCA) led participants to examine the relationships between environment, sense, perception, and empathy, in order to expand their assumptions about individual experience and to develop new ways of understanding the world. Points of reference ranged from animal behaviour and heuristics to autism and synaesthesia, and involved reading groups, film screenings, design, performance, and a visit to London Zoo — each activity specifically chosen to generate different experiences of heightened sense. 

The week culminated in two days of collaborative work that focused on empathy and practical activities with an aim to answer the question: what could it really mean to experience the world as someone else does. Through designing or performing, contributors considered how to engage in transformative engagements that could then be passed on to other people as new ways of experience the world. The result was an open exchange in which guests were invited to take part in to try out the products of each other’s experiences. 

RCA student Anna Dakin appreciated the range of experiences and their attendant discourse: 'The week was an interesting series of conversations, events, and talks: a great place to evolve collective thinking within such a diverse range of students. Thank you!'

AcrossRCA is run by the RCA's Academic Development team. Since its inception, Chris Mitchell, Head of Academic Development, has seen the initiative grow and thrive to reach its current state as a pivotal contributor to the strength of collaborative and interdisciplinary practice at the RCA:

‘In its five-year history, AcrossRCA has gone from strength to strength, expanding in size, complexity and ambition. Its success relies on the extraordinary capacity of participants to embrace new ideas and collaborative ways of working. AcrossRCA started following student demand for more cross-College collaboration. As an experiment, the College cleared a single week in the academic calendar for interdisciplinary projects led by staff and students. In a short time, it has become part of the landscape and an invaluable opportunity to make new connections.’


AcrossRCA runs annually, during the College autumn term. Find out more about this year’s projects here.