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Royal College of Art

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(established 1837)

The RCA is one of the most illustrious art and design educational institutions in Britain and has a long and distinguished history. Its beginnings were as the Government School of Design, established in 1837 as a response to the British failure to compete effectively with a growing number of countries in the design of manufactured goods. In 1853 the School became the National Art Training School and moved to South Kensington, training new teachers and providing a focus for national art education. A leading force in this enterprise was Henry Cole (1808–82), who had played an important role in setting up the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Notable amongst early teachers at the Government School were Owen Jones and Gottfried Semper and design played a significant role in the curriculum. In 1896 the School was renamed the Royal College of Art and soon underwent a number of further changes with the appointment of Walter Crane as principal in 1898. In 1901 the RCA organized itself into schools of painting, sculpture, design, and architecture. After the First World War the RCA was noted for its aesthetic input into many fields, including British sculpture that was influenced by students such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Influential design tutors included the artist Paul Nash and in 1936 the government‐appointed Hambledon Committee recommended that the RCA again be reorganized in order to raise the profile of design in the curriculum with the consequent suggestion that it be redesignated as the Royal College of Design. Almost exactly a century later than the government committees that had resulted in the establishment of the Government School of Design and a national network of art and design schools, similar concerns about the ability of Britain to compete with other countries in terms of design came once more to the fore in the 1930s. After the Second World War the RCA was reorganized under a new principal, Robin Darwin, who took up the post in 1948 and placed greater emphasis on product design and specialist design provision including graphics and fashion. In 1959 a new School of Industrial Design (Engineering) was established under Misha Black, who in turn instituted a Research Unit within it under L. Bruce Archer, a visiting professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung at Ulm and a director of the company Scientists and Technologies Engineering Partnership. After a series of successful, externally funded projects, the Research Unit became a department in its own right, the Department of Design Research, and Archer was promoted to a professorship in 1967. In the same year the RCA was granted a Royal Charter which conferred on it independent university status and the ability to confer its own degrees, singling it out from most of the rest of British art and design higher education which was controlled by a centralized system of diploma and degree conferment until the late 1980s. From 1984 when Jocelyn Stevens became rector a further programme of development and expansion was undertaken, culminating in the opening in 1992 of the Stevens Building in 1992, the 25th anniversary of the College's gaining of the Royal Charter. However, during Stevens's rectorship the Department of Design Research was closed in 1987. Christopher Frayling became rector in 1996, a role he held alongside that of the chairmanship of the Design Council in the early 21st century. Over its lifetime the RCA has had a distinguished list of alumni and staff, many of whom are internationally renowned and influential designers.


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