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AcrossRCA 2016: Collaboration, Community and Co-design

AcrossRCA is an annual week-long event that offers students the opportunity to step out of curricular activities and collaborate on real-world projects across programmes and disciplines. This year over 450 students are taking part in a diverse range of projects from hacking furniture designs to re-imagining urban travel and learning new approaches to performance. Run by current students, staff, alumni, external partners and industry professionals, the projects provide opportunities for students to learn new skills in intensive workshops, gain practical experience through live briefs and make lasting connections working collaboratively with their peers.

‘AcrossRCA has grown in size, complexity and ambition each year since it was launched in 2010’ explained Chris Mitchell, head of Academic Development, which coordinates AcrossRCA. ‘Many of the 23 projects selected this year have embraced global challenges such as those that relate to health and wellbeing, security and sustainability. Teams of students across the College will be collaborating on projects as diverse as improving safety at sea, designing soft robotics and constructing a stool with a single tool. The emphasis as ever will be on collaboration, experimentation and play.’

This year a collaboration with Ikea and Tom Dixon offers participating students the chance to experiment with a new Ikea product designed by Dixon. ‘The product is a new “living platform” that responds to changes in the way we live’ explained Ian Higgins, senior Interior Design tutor. ‘More and more people are moving into urban areas and inhabiting increasingly limited space, technological developments are endlessly changing the way people connect and socialise and, as a consequence of this, people use their living space in new and different ways.’ 

Students from 11 different programmes are taking part in the workshop to 'hack' Dixon’s design, exploring its potential to be customised and adapted for future living space. At the end of the week the students’ designs with be exhibited at the College and there is a possibility some may be taken on and developed by Ikea.

Another project that will have substantial impact and life outside of the College is a pop-up cinema for refugees. The project is led by Harriet Harris, senior Architecture tutor, and offers students the opportunity to gain experience in basic construction, set design, textiles and lighting. The cinema is being constructed from new and up-cycled materials and will premiere on Friday evening, with film works about the refugee crisis. Starling Cinema are collaborators in the project, which aims to raise awareness of the high number of children living in refugee camps in France. After the launch the cinema will be taken to a French refugee camp, where it will become a permanent youth enterprise project and community resource.

The exchange of knowledge and skills is a core part of AcrossRCA, offering students the chance to experiment with new materials, approaches and technologies. The Sentimental Soft Robotics project, lead by IED and Fashion PhD candidate Caroline Yan Zheng considers the tactility of robotics and the emotional responses they can inspire. Participants in the workshops are building prototypes with soft robotics tool kits initiated by Harvard Biodesign Lab and Trinity College Dublin. These experiments will culminate in an exhibition on Friday, which will catalyse further conversations around future relationships between humans and soft robotics.

Earlier this month a group of Service Design MA students – Culainn Boland Shanahan, Jupone Wang, Wei-Teng Lin and Daniel Lee – ran a series of design workshops in local primary schools, sharing their approach to design as a way to solve real-world challenges. The children were set the task of improving active travel: their imaginative solutions included a floating orb with a disco ball inside it and a flying bicycle that also cleans the air. As part of AcrossRCA the group have asked RCA students to develop these ideas into realisable designs. ‘The children will come to an exhibition on Friday to see their work alongside the RCA students’ ’ Culainn explained. ‘We believe that children’s creativity should be celebrated and that the students at the RCA are best suited to inspire the next generation of artists and designers.’

Methods of co-design are being put to use to solve real world problems in a project led by Architecture graduate and HHCD Research Associate Ralf Alwani and IED graduate Lizzie Raby. The project explores how design can act as a deterrent against suicidal behaviour on bridges without creating a feeling of imprisonment. Participants have been introduced to ethnographic principles and carried out observational studies at bridges in Battersea and Archway.

The Lloyds Register Foundation Grand Challenge: Safety at Sea has set students the task of finding innovative design approaches to help save lives at sea. In partnership with the RNLI participants are considering two areas: one is the river Thames, which has the busiest lifeboat station in the country. The second is pilot transfer ladders – the process through which pilots board large ships to navigate them into harbour – that have not changed for hundreds of years and still result in many fatalities and accidents. Deputy head of IDE Professor Ashley Hall, visiting IDE tutor Dr Laura Ferrarello and IDE PhD student Michael Kann are leading the project, which launches during AcrossRCA and will culminate in January 2017 with an exhibition of models, prototypes, test rigs and design proposals.

Another live project is taking place offsite at the new Design Museum in Kensington, where Architecture alumna Clementine Blakemore is currently one of four designers in residence. Blakemore has designed a temporary pavilion for the grounds of the museum, based on the description of the iconic Commonwealth Institute building as a 'tent in the park'. A team of students are working collaboratively with Blakemore to assemble the prefabricated structure over the course of the week. ‘The project is centered around the idea that the construction site can be a fantastic platform for exchange and learning’ Clementine explained. ‘Opening up the process of building the pavilion with a group of students from a range of disciplines, each contributing in different ways and learning from each other, has been really exciting.’ Alongside gaining experience in construction – learning through a direct engagement with materials and the site – the students are also thoroughly documenting the process, working with a graphic designer and filmmaker to produce a publication and short film that will be shown at the Design Museum as part of the Designers in Residence exhibition.

AcrossRCA fosters collaboration within the College community; one of this year’s projects, run by IDE alumni Edward Hill and Print alumna Lou-Atessa Marcellin, explores the idea of collaboration within common spaces. Lou explained that the motivation for running the workshop was their own positive experience of AcrossRCA. ‘It really benefited my studies and my practice as an artist’ said Lou. ‘It allows you to do something outside of the curriculum and work with a range of students from across College, which you otherwise rarely do.’ 

Their workshop is based in Glengall Wharf Garden in Burgess Park, where students and the local community are co-creating a new structure for the garden. Through this activity the group will explore ideas of ecology, sustainability and ‘the common’ – considering how creative processes can be used to build a sense of community through the exchange of skills, knowledge and personal histories. ‘Our studio practice is to design and formulate gardens for urban communities on a practical and intellectual level’ Lou explained. ‘We wanted to run a project to make people think about what they might have in common and how these spaces exist within an urban environment.’


Details of all the AcrossRCA 2016 projects can be found on the AcrossRCA website.

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