Collaboration, Sustainability, Co-Design and Sensory Engagement at AcrossRCA 2018

AcrossRCA is an annual programme of cross-disciplinary, collaborative projects and workshops that is specifically designed to enable students to gain perspectives on their practice from outside their own disciplines, make connections and find future collaborators. The programme helps foster innovation and creates a lasting impression for many students, shaping their time at the College and their careers beyond. 

This year AcrossRCA featured 37 projects, as well as several shorter drop-in sessions, offering an extensive range of opportunities for participation. Sustainability and circular economies were the focus for several projects that considered how design can disrupt and innovate for change, while having real world impact. Many of the projects are led by current students and recent alumni, creating a peer-led environment. 

Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) graduate Jacob Jelen, organised a two-day intensive eco-hackathon in collaboration with Solve.Earth, to innovate ideas for sustainable businesses addressing the environmental impacts of ‘Fast Fashion’. The hackathon focused on generating innovative business ideas that could reduce over-consumption and waste in the fashion industry. 

Students came together from diverse Programmes including Service Design, Innovation Design Engineering, Global Innovation Design, Textiles, Moving Image and Painting, but also brought expertise from varied backgrounds prior to coming to the RCA such as bio-tech, data science, architecture and materials science. With the expertise of Solve.Earth’s founder Dr Gareth J Thompson, participating students explored the potential that start-up companies have to innovate rapidly and cause dynamic change, disrupting markets and creating global impact.

At the end of the hackathon, students pitched to a panel of judges. Their ideas addressed many aspects of the manufacturing and retail process, from reusing waste material such as off-cuts to encouraging consumers to wear clothes for longer and to recycle, share or swap garments.

Also considering sustainability, Design Products students Kenneth Arnold and Joseph Rouse, along with Textiles student Céline Ducret led a design challenge using the principles of circular economies for the  Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). With input from the RNLI’s sustainability officer Anna Frizzell, students developed prototypes for the reuse of a decommissioned life boat. They came up with inventive applications from a bongo, marine-themed children’s toys and collection of jewellery celebrating the textures and surfaces of the sea-worn material.

As well as introducing students to each other, AcrossRCA also provides an opportunity for students to make excursions and create work in response to different environments and communities outside of the College, opening up new avenues for enquiry and modes of making. Recipes for Stockwell was a design challenge, run by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD), that offered students the chance to work with a live research project – Our Stockwell – which is tackling childhood obesity through inclusive design.

‘We were keen to give students the opportunity to work on a live research project,’ explained Gail Ramster, HHCD Senior Research Associate.  ‘Our research associate Carmel Keren is mid-way through this one-year programme of work, developing ideas with the local community in Stockwell that would help them to live more active, healthier lives.’

For the AcrossRCA project, students were given the opportunity to work on briefs that have emerged from Carmel’s community engagement. They developed and rapidly prototyped concepts to see how people reacted and if they were taking ideas in the right direction. ‘It offered a little taster for the students of designing with communities and of our process at the HHCD, where people are always at the centre of our design research. And it was really useful for us too, to receive all the energy and creativity that multidisciplinary teams of students can offer, even within one short week,’ Gail commented.

Architecture alumni and current Designer in Residence at the Design Museum, Hester Buck, led a week-long workshop – Activism and Outrage: A celebration of post-war social housing. Students responded to the Savills report, which proposes a ‘Complete Streets’ model for redeveloping post-war housing estates in London. 

The workshop took place within the Designers in Residence studio at the Design Museum as well as through walks around local housing estates, where they met groups who have collectively claimed the common ground of their ‘incomplete street’. The outcomes of the project will be exhibited at the Design Museum and form part of a small publication, as part of the 2018 Designers in Residence final exhibition in December.

Opportunities for students to explore projects further afield were offered by Maritime Traces: Expedition – a field trip to Great Yarmouth and the Norfolk coast run by Visual Communication graduates Emma Harry and Laura Copsey, and Me Here to You There – led by Information Experience Design (IED) student Daisy Buckle, which explored ways to communicate the experience of walking and sensing the environment in Hyde Park and Ashbridge Estate, a National Trust woodland in the Chiltern Hills.

Another thread running through AcrossRCA activities this year was a focus on the role that our senses and bodies play in design and communication. Ordinary Pleasures was a workshop exploring how bodily knowledge can be accessed through theory, practice and tacit learning. The workshop was led by Visual Communication graduate Barbara Mueller with support from IED research student Claire van Rhyn. It involved visits to Stuart Carey’s ceramics studio and Wangxia Ni’s Dim Sum kitchen in order to explore new experiences and gain new hands-on knowledge. 

Participants then recollected and rebuilt objects based on bodily remembrances, which were curated in an immersive exhibition open to the public. The varied outcomes included: a performance in which Solanne Bernard (MA Sculpture) applied honey to visitors' lips to draw attention to the act of slowly eating a raspberry; Camilla Bliss (MA Sculpture) filled a lycra tube with flour to let visitors experience weight by putting this work around their bodies; and Kevin Chiam (IDE) invited visitors to apply malleable patterns to generic vessels.

The workshop SenseAbility explored the future of immersive storytelling through the creation of multisensory accessory design. It was led by IDE Visiting Lecturer Wan-Ting Tseng, IDE alumnus Jack O’Leary McNeice with additional expert input from perfumer Sarah McCartney, scent engineer Harry Sherwood and future storyteller Anna Nolda Nagele. The works created through the workshop were exhibited at the end of the week and engaged all of the senses, with a focus on touch and smell.


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