Before Central Saint Martins arrived in Kings Cross it was already one of the UK’s most renowned creative education institutions – with illustrious graduates such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Matthew Williamson, Hussein Chalayan, Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George, Rebecca Horn, Anthony Caro, Sade, M.I.A and on and on. CSM has not had a similar reputation in architecture but that may be about to change.
At the beginning of last year CSM announced that architect Jeremy Till was to become the new head of college, with his appointment coinciding with the school’s move to a new campus in October 2012 – occupying one of the most significant new buildings for creative education in the UK in years.
Incidentally King’s Cross was the first area of London that I got to know professionally while I was still a student at The Bartlett, when I innocently volunteered to help Michael Parkes of the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group, a champion of local community rights in the area. I worked with Parkes and the KXRLG to develop a proposal for a new community centre for Somers Town, to be situated on a vacant lot north of (‘behind’) the British Library. I didn’t know at the outset but I was later impressed to learn that this was a ‘guerilla’ development proposal to commit a plot of land for community use in the quite substantial shadow of the coming Kings Cross Central redevelopment. Unfortunately our efforts did not meet with success. It is the larger development however that provides the backdrop for the new Central Saint Martins.
It is easy to run out of superlatives when describing Kings Cross Central: the largest building site in Europe; the largest piece of central London to be developed under one ownership since the 19th century; £20 billion+ (and that does not include the recently announced £1 billion Google HQ). In addition King’s Cross is now the Eurostar connection to mainland Europe, so that CSM can rightly claim that it is “closer to Paris than Edinburgh”. Without doubt this corner of London is set to become one of its most dynamic.
Central Saint Martins is located in the Granary Building, a listed (historically preserved) mid-nineteenth century former wheat warehouse. Its redevelopment was carried out by architects Stanton Williams who retained details large and small from the building’s use and changes over the years while introducing 21st century learning spaces as well as the new Lethaby Gallery, the 360-seat Platform Theatre and Caravan Restaurant.
This single new building brings together the multi-disciplinary schools under one roof:
- School of Art
- School of Fashion & Textiles
- School of Communication, Product and Spatial Design
- Drama Centre London
For the creative student this allows wonderful opportunities for cross pollination – as Paul Williams states, allowing him or her “to explore the slipstream between disciplines”.
I expect CSM to have a lot more architecture in its future. Recently Mel Dodd of muf (yes, that is the business name) was appointed to head up the new MA course in Architecture, Cities and Innovation. Given the uniqueness of the multi-disciplinary internal setting, the expanding dynamism of the local King’s Cross environment and the longstanding pedigree of the school itself I expect CSM to transform the architectural education environment in London and wider Europe. The Bartlett and the AA don’t quite dominate as they did when, ironically Jeremy Till was a tutor at the former, but they still tend to attract the most attention.
If CSM attracts good architectural staff and students we will all be looking a little more closely at King’s Cross.
— Originally published may 2013 —