Inside

The RCA Renames Kensington Common Room Block Honouring Former Rector Frayling

The Royal College of Art has renamed its Kensington Common Room Block the Frayling Building – in honour of the College’s former rector and renowned cultural historian, Sir Christopher Frayling.

The naming of the Frayling Building continues a College tradition of remembering influential RCA rectors. The eponymously named Darwin and Stevens Buildings at the College’s Kensington campus pay tribute to the legacies of former rectors Robin Darwin and Jocelyn Stevens.

Sir Christopher joined the RCA in 1979 as Professor of Cultural History, before becoming Pro-Rector in 1992, and Rector in 1996. As the first Professor of Cultural History at the RCA, Sir Christopher founded the department that was to later evolve into the History of Design programme – a joint Master’s with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Among his many achievements at the RCA are the cementing of the College’s practice-based research culture and the founding of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design – a specialist user-centred design research centre that helped secure the RCA’s reputation for inclusive design and design for disability.

Sir Christopher was also instrumental in the creation of Design London – the Royal College of Art’s triangulated partnership with Imperial College London and the Tanaka Business School that aimed to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship through interdisciplinarity. The College’s Battersea expansion, now nearing completion, was initiated by Sir Christopher.

Sir Christopher was at the RCA’s unveiling ceremony last week, joined by his many friends, former colleagues and council members.

'I'm flattered, honoured and touched,' said Sir Christopher.'Flattered because this building is at the heart of the College – the lecture theatre, student restaurant, library, registry, students' union, and senior common room at the top. As Henry Moore once said, "the best way to an artist is through his stomach...". I'm honoured because the next-door building is named after the great Rector, my predecessor Robin Darwin, great grandson of Charles – so I'm now up there with him. And I'm touched because every single room in the building has such strong personal associations of my 35 years at the College.' 

He added: 'I gave – I estimate – 281 lectures in the Lecture Theatre; met my wife Helen in the student restaurant; researched several books and countless broadcasts in the College Library. I had my first office down the corridor from the books, where the joint postgraduate courses with the V&A, Imperial College and the Tate, and the initial thoughts about what  was to become the Hamlyn Centre were concocted. And, as for the Senior Common Room, I once asked Nick Serota what was the key to the famous "family" atmosphere of the College. He replied, "The Senior Common Room – a very special place". It's a place where the paintings, prints and photographs by College people, past and present, represent a kind of visual fellowship. The Students' Union, located just below the SCR, is a reminder of the reason the Royal College of Art exists at all: our students. So, the building is like a stone tape to me, with all these memories, and many, many others, embedded in the walls. I'm flattered honoured and touched, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Mind you, it'll take a bit of getting used to.' 

Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art Jeremy Myerson, and a longstanding colleague of Sir Christopher, paid tribute:

‘As a cultural historian, Sir Christopher Frayling has redefined what it means to be an author, academic, activist and broadcaster in the arts. In fact, he could have a cultural history written all about himself. His epic output of books, articles, TV programmes, media appearances, conference papers and public roles leaves us breathless with admiration at his achievements.’

He added: ‘His great accomplishment has been to give the subjects of popular culture – advertising, horror, King Tut, the spaghetti western, even the art school itself – a high-brow treatment. And also to go the other way – to make the most complex cultural subjects accessible and entertaining.’

Outside of the RCA, Sir Frayling’s other prominent roles have included: Chairman of the Design Council, Chairman of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Patron of the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation, and Chairman of the Arts Council England, between 2004 and 2007.

His list of achievements and honours are numerous. In 2009, the University of the Arts London honoured his ‘immeasurable influence on the art world’, adding to a string of honorary doctorates by nine UK universities. In 2001, Sir Christopher was knighted for ‘Services to Art and Design Education’.