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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > Places > London Places > Future artists find a historic home

Future artists find a historic home

How do you transform some derelict buildings standing on a barren and forgotten patch of land into a vibrant, creative and fashionable new area? How about inviting one of the world's leading art colleges to move in? It might just work…

Granary Square

Granary Square in 2008 & how it will look in 2011

King's Cross is slowly shaking off its reputation as one of the seedier and more squalid parts of central London. Last year's redevelopment of St Pancras International is followed this year by the imminent opening of Kings Place – London's newest arts and cultural events venue.

Giving a further boost to King's Cross is a massive regeneration project covering 67 acres that will provide offices, retail units, housing and public spaces. At the heart of this scheme is the development of a historic Grade II building complex that will be the new home to Central Saint Martins, one of the leading art and design colleges in the world.

School for Stars

Currently spread across five different buildings in London's bustling west end, Central Saint Martins enjoys a stellar reputation for launching a countless number of glittering careers. Designer John Galliano, sculptor Antony Gormley, actor Pierce Brosnan and artist Lucian Freud are just a handful of its alumni who have gone on to enjoy global success.

Since 2006, Jane Rapley has been the Head of Central Saint Martins. She spoke to BBC London about the benefits of the move, the risks involved and the secret of Central Saint Martins' success.

"We have been looking to move for the last 12 years or so," says Jane Rapley who has worked at the college for over 20 years. "We were originally going to develop one of our existing sites at Southampton Row but we had problems with the planning permission."

Central Saint Martins

CSM at Southampton Row, Holborn

"We're struggling with our current buildings. We'd have gone on and we'd have found imaginative ways around things, but we have a global reputation. Could we go on attracting really interesting students from the UK and globally when we are struggling to provide good facilities?"

Changing with the times

Bringing all the disparate parts of the college together under one single complex will bring obvious logistical, financial and academic benefits. The new site will be home to about 5,000 students and up to a further 1,000 staff. Adaptability is the key for the new headquarters.

"You don't get to build an art school very often and however much you plan, it has got be able to change because the world changes: The students change the way they live their lives and the way they want to study; the staff - how they want to teach and what they want to teach - so it's got to be adaptable," says Jane Rapley.

From W1 to N1

One concern that Jane Rapley does admit to having is moving out of London's west end, where the college has an established network of suppliers, whether that is art shops, book shops or photography services. Although the college, she says, will be in a position to influence what sort of businesses will also be moving to the King's Cross development.

However, a network of suppliers is not the only thing they will be leaving behind.

"In central London we are part of an urban, metropolitan world city," says Jane Rapley.

Jane Rapley

Head of CSM Jane Rapley

"Yes, of course, people are anxious and unsure. At King's Cross it will be different and it will perhaps be a bit 'Urgh!' when we first get there because building works will be going on all around us but you've already got Kings Place across the road and the Guardian moving in as well."

Are you worried you might be moving into a new development that could become a white elephant?

"It won't be a white elephant with us in the middle!"

The Granary Building

The centrepiece of Central St Martins' new home will be the Grade II listed Granary Building – a mammoth brick monument to the Victorian railway boom. Built in 1851 for the storage and transportation of grain throughout eastern England, the Granary still retains many period features that will be incorporated into its re-development.

Architect Richard Wardle of Stanton Williams has been working closely with Central Saint Martins to transform the Granary, and the two transit sheds behind it, into everything that the college needs: Workshops, studios, lecture halls, theatres, libraries and so on.

"In terms of the listed buildings, because they have got such a rich history and such a quality to them, everything that we are doing takes it proportions and acknowledges what we have already got at the moment," says Richard Wardle.

"We have always got new and old juxtaposed together, which is the beauty of the scheme."

Richard Wardle

Architect Richard Wardle

Design features

There will be several elements in the design that links the building's future with its industrial past. For example, the bike sheds for the students will be where the stables used to be for the horses.

"We're not just putting back what was once there. We are re-interpreting it and bringing it back to the public's imagination," says the architect. "We have put the lifts in the north elevation and it will be people coming up and down as opposed to the grain."

It is hoped that the work will be completed in time for the start of the academic term in the Autumn of 2011. Only then, says Richard Wardle, will he be able to judge whether he has done a good job.

"Stanton Williams want it to be a fantastic building but at the end of the day it is the people who make the building, not the architecture. They are the ones who bring it to life, especially because of the nature of the college. They will completely enliven the public space and the streets."

Covered Street - Central Saint Martins

The new home of CSM

The secret of their success

Jane Rapley, what's the secret of Central Saint Martins and how can you ensure that it is not going to get lost in the move to King's Cross?

"It's not a single factor, if there was then everybody else would do it anyway. It's about ambition, both of staff and students, it's about confidence, about a culture where we encourage the students to take risks, and you take gambles because that's how you learn."

"What will be a success for me is if in six or 10 years time our core values are still recognisable: As a risk taking institution that attracts the most interesting world talent, both in staff and students, and that they are continuing to make an impact."

last updated: 09/12/2008 at 16:08
created: 26/09/2008

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