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2021: A Year in Review at the RCA

2021 has seen extraordinary growth at the RCA reinforcing our reputation as a world leader in Art & Design education. With huge achievements from our students pushing forward the next generation of Art & Design practitioners, our alumni start-ups delivering impact in industry as well as building on our design focus on global issues with college-wide projects such as Grand Challenge and the Terra Carta Design Lab.
Here are just a few highlights from a remarkable year.


Work in Progress 2021


Virgil Abloh portrait
Virgil Abloh

  • Sir Peter Bazalgette, a leading figure in the media and creative industries, was appointed as RCA Pro-Chancellor & Chair of Council. He takes up his role as Chair in March 2022.
  • World-renowned designer and champion for design education and equality of opportunity in the creative industries Virgil Abloh joined the RCA as a Visiting Professor. Sadly, Virgil passed away this November leaving a huge legacy that will continue to impact future generations of creative practitioners.


Together as One Mural by Adalberto Lonardi
Together as One Public Mural, Adalberto Lonardi


Three Things, a work by Emily Gillbanks, MA Painting
Three Things, Emily Gillbanks, MA Painting

  • Our MA Painting student Emily Gillbanks won the de Laszlo Foundation Prize at the Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition for her work Three Things.
  • The Design Age Institute launched The Design Age Directory - a national directory for design and healthy ageing - as it reached its one-year milestone.


MA Design Products Graduate Dani Clode with her “third thumb” device
MA Design Products Graduate Dani Clode with her “third thumb” device
Photographer: Dani Clode

  • Two RCA staff and graduate collectives; Cooking Sections and Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S) were shortlisted for the 2021 Turner Prize.
  • We collaborated with Imperial College Business School and a consortium of business partners to launch Wicked Acceleration Labs, aimed at speeding up the resolution of the world’s wicked problems.
  • Our MA Design Products graduate Dani Clode’s remarkable work with brain scientists at UCL showed how the brain adapts to a robotic third thumb.


RCA2021 Visual Identity

  • We brought our graduate show online again with the launch of RCA2021, complemented by a number of accompanying satellite shows in physical settings.
  • Our MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering student Minwook Paeng made headlines around the world with his 'third eye' device.
  • We launched the RCA T-Shirt Shop – a new annual enterprise raising funds to support students to study at the RCA.
  • Five RCA alumni & student projects made the finals of the Mayor of London's Entrepreneur programme, out of a total 24 finalists, with a win in the Health category for Laura Salisbury’s start-up company KnitRegen.


Paul Thompson speaking at a podium at the Terra Carta Design Lab COP26 Event
Paul Thompson speaking at the Terra Carta Design Lab COP26 Event

  • The RCA Materials Science Research Centre won an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Sustainable Digital Society award to drive its mission around sustainability in textiles.
  • An incredible seventeen RCA alumni were among the artists selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021.
  • Our Royal Visitor, HRH The Prince of Wales and our Chancellor, Sir Jony Ive, officially launched the Terra Carta Design Lab to find credible design solutions to climate change.
  • A unique rideable bench design by our MA Intelligent Mobility students won the Ford Fund Smart Mobility Challenge.


St Helena, Extreme E Floating Operations Hub
Extreme E's floating operations hub the St Helena


Wayne Binitie and Catherine Dormor with 1765 Sculpture, which contains an ampule of air from that year
Wayne Binitie and Catherine Dormor with 1765 Sculpture

  • Phoebe Hayes (MA Visual Communication) and Minwook Paeng (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering) became our 2021 Pokémon Scholars.
  • We celebrated the third year of our OPPO partnership as RCA graduates humanised technology for the London Design Festival 2021.


KnitRegen from Laura Salisbury, close-up of smart textile nano-structure
KnitRegen, Laura Salisbury

  • RCA researcher Laura Salisbury was awarded the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to develop her InnovationRCA start-up KnitRegen making smart textile garments for stroke patients.
  • The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design announced the Design.Different Season of events exploring inclusive design across industries and practices.
  • InnovationRCA announced the eight new design start-ups joining its incubation programme for 2021 from do-it-yourself permanent tattoos to mycelium leather alternatives.


Close-Up rendering of chargepoint
New UK Chargepoint

  • Graduates from across the School of Arts & Humanities exhibited alongside graduates from London’s other leading art schools at Saatchi Gallery for London Grads Now. 21.
  • MA Intelligent Mobility student Mingwei Liu was announced as winner of the Polestar Design Contest for his ‘glad to be dirty’ air-cleaning car.


Zandra Rhodes. Photograph: Chris Bissell
Zandra Rhodes
Photographer: Chris Bissell
  • Zandra Rhodes, Stella McCartney and Harris Elliot joined our fashion alumni and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at their Design.Fashion event to discuss inclusive design.

Students across the RCA will be starting 2022 with our annual Work In Progress show.