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The Spirit of the RCA: Past, Present and Future

Standing sentinel at the cusp of the year, we are reflecting on the achievements of the lifelong community that is the RCA, and the themes and preoccupations driving its direction in the coming year. 

The values at its heart are apparent, collectively, in everything we do: cross-fertilisation, collaboration, excellence, diversity, depth, practical (haptic) skills and 'radical traditionalism', and from these, new values are evolving to meet the challenges of the next decade. The seeds of an internationalised community are already sown – with both a national and a global perspective that embraces and conjoins the digital and the haptic, fuelled by research-driven teaching at its core  – and we look forward to further evidence of its growth in 2015.

In 2014, the Royal College of Art consolidated its reputation as not only the world’s most influential postgraduate university for art and design but also as the UK’s pre-eminent university of art and design. We secured a REF assessment as the highest ranking UK specialist art and design institution in terms of 4* research and scored 100% on both impact and environment. This success reflects a concertedly strengthened research culture supported by increased research income and formalised knowledge exchange.

2014 was also the year when the RCA graduated students in three new programmes (Information Experience Design, Interior Design and Service Design), introduced new Fine Art pathways in Performance and Moving Image, and saw students start to reap the benefits of a truly international design education in Global Innovation Design's tripartite New York – London – Tokyo programme.

RCA students, staff and alumni have led the way by participating in the most exciting research and practical developments across all art and design disciplines. As designers and makers, they were honoured with major exhibitions and international prizes; and as curators, theorists and writers, they brought the newest thinking in art and design to diverse audiences. 

In addition, the RCA has continued to pioneered cross-disciplinary research projects that are actively changing what is meant by art and design, as well as contributing to high-profile collaborations with partners from retail, the arts, industry and other academic institutions.

Dean of the School of Design Professor Dale Harrow and Reader in Inclusive Design Rama Gheerawo secured £480,000 to apply design ethnography thinking to the development of autonomous (driverless) vehicles – a hot topic in the new year press. They and the team have the principal research role in stakeholder engagement activities for the £8 million Royal Borough of Greenwich GATEway investigation into the viability of driverless vehicles in urban environments, commissioned by InnovateUK with Transport Research Laboratory as the overall project lead.

Design Products' Head Dr Sharon Baurley and Senior Tutor James Tooze have secured £500,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop a shared multidisciplinary vision and research agenda for the role of ‘makespaces’ (open-access community fabrication workshops, such as Fab Labs, Hackerspaces, Makerspaces) in redistributed manufacturing.

Funding is essential to growth, and the Abraaj Group and the Royal College of Art this year launched the largest international scholarship programme in the creative postgraduate sector, with a mission to create a unique community of creative leaders who share values of integrity and social responsibility, and will use the transformative powers of their RCA education to have a positive impact on the life and culture of their home countries. This specific support sits alongside the RCA Fund and other scholarships that are designed to support students who would not otherwise be able to pursue their MA, MPhil and PhD studies. 

The RCA also celebrated its own history in 2014, in the major exhibition Graphics RCA: Fifty Years, not merely as an opportunity to look back and consolidate but also to look forward to future developments in art and design.

At the start of the next academic year 2015/16, 100 Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal students will move into the newest addition to the Battersea campus, the Woo Building. The Battersea community will also be bolstered in 2015 by the arrival of Research, Sustain and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, joining InnovationRCA as it launches a £2m investment fund to support start-ups founded by RCA graduates, which will be based in the InnovationRCA incubator. 

In Kensington, the rationalisation of the Grade II-listed Darwin Building, begun by award-winning architects Haworth Tompkins, will continue to make the most of spaces and opportunities for learning, teaching and collaboration within the context of 'Albertopolis' and neighbouring partner universities and museums. The relocation of Service Design from its temporary home in the Science Museum's Dana Centre brings all six School of Design programmes under one roof.  

Further developments this year will see the College move into new fields of art and design practice by launching new programmes for 2016/17 enrolment, and into partnerships and collaborations that extend the influence of art and design, building both on their positioning within the accepted science, technology, engineering and mathematics matrix (STEM becomes STEAM or STEM D), and on the RCA’s contention that the real step changes in solving the world’s most pressing challenges are made when scientists, engineers, artists, designers, writers and historians work together.

Dates for the diary in 2015 include the Work-in-progress Shows, starting with Fine Art's Open House (17 & 18 January) and offering an insight into the work of students from the Schools of Material (21–25 January), Design (29 January – 1 February), Communication (5–8 February) and Architecture (12–15 February); InnovationRCA celebrates ten years of successful design start-up incubation with an exhibition in February; Curating Contemporary Art's graduate show is open to the public from 6 to 22 March; Stewarts Law RCA Secret opens in London on 12 March with the much-awaited sale day on Saturday 21 March, and Secret in Dubai runs from 16 to 21 March; and the Research biennial returns this year with the exhibition Why Would I Lie? from 17 to 26 April. Show RCA 2015 is open to the public from 25 June to 5 July.

For more information about the achievements of our students, alumni and faculty, our debates, research and discoveries, see our News pages.

For upcoming talks, symposia and exhibitions, please see Events.