Monday, February 04, 2008

Chelsea College of Art and Design

Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, England by Allies and Morrison

Photographs are by Dennis Gilbert / VIEW.

One of the numerous areas of expertise of the Chelsea College of Art and Design is "interior and spatial design," which deals with "new architectural concepts, furniture and installations re-defining living spaces, and refurbishment of existing buildings." Given this most architectural of the schools interests (that also include graphic design, fine art, textile design, and multimedia), the remodeling and extension of the former Royal Army Medical College into a new home for the College by Allies and Morrison is a fitting expression of creative interior and spatial design.

The former Medical College is comprised of Grade II listed buildings, meaning they are of special interest and warrant preservation. Obviously the outcome at Millbank does just this, via a strategy of filling the voids between buildings and stitching the old and new together. While the difference between old and new is apparent with the heavy brick of the former and the crisp geometries of the latter, in some cases the interplay is like a game of cat and mouse, where the extension "hides in plain sight," if you will, rather than screaming for attention. In other cases, especially the "rear" of the campus, the effect is more overt, though appreciable in the equally subtle, ethereal qualities of the architecture.

In the case of a redesign and extension of a large group of buildings, interiors plays as great a role, if not greater, than the exteriors. Here the circulation spaces have a light and light-filled quality, while the studios clearly bear a functional, "beat me up, I can take it" construction of concrete and steel. These are spaces that reward the gear and expression of the art students, who will not doubt take advantage of the spaces suited to their appropriate activities, be it painting, ceramics, or computer media.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the school's new home is the fact they built it in Millbank, directly adjacent to the main entrance to Tate Britain (not to be confused with the newer, more popular sibling Tate Modern). This decision clearly links the exhibition of art with the education and creation of art. As critic Hugh Pearman articulates it, "the biggest idea here is not architectural, but social," as educational programs link the two above and beyond the physical realm.