Ravensbourne college gets ready to move in to eye-catching new premises

For staff and students, it marks the start of a new, hi-tech way of working

The idea that academics should no longer be allowed to occupy their own offices, or even have their own desks, filing cabinets or bookcases, may seem like taking the cuts too far. But it is actually happening at Ravensbourne, a specialist college of design and communication which moves into its new campus next to the O2 Centre in London in September.

Gone are corridors, offices and paper. In have come open spaces, atriums, technology hubs, design studios and production suites in a fantastic building designed by the edgy architects called Foreign Office.

Efficiency is the name of the game. Lecturers will have desks that they use just for that day, working in open-plan spaces at their laptops with wonderful views of the River Thames, Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud and the Dome – and will be able to keep their possessions in a locker. "Staff will probably have their own little boxes," the principal Robin Baker suggests tentatively.

The administrative staff will do the same. The top dogs, including Baker, will also work together in an open-plan office without desks or filing cabinets of their own. "I felt I had to lead from the front on this and say that I'm prepared to give up my desk," says Baker. "I think it will work."

According to Baker, the staff are cool about giving up the privacy and all the accoutrements of academic life. But then his staff are different from most lecturers. They are not members of a union, for a start. Ravensbourne does not recognise the University and College Union. The lecturers are all professionals in their fields, with day jobs, and come in to teach part-time in subjects such as sound design, digital photography and film production. "If every member of staff came in [on one day], you would not have enough desks," explains Baker. "So, the idea is that you have a range of staff who are in on different days, doing different things, who work flexibly." This is the brave new world of higher education in the postmodern age. It has been made possible by the hard choice that Ravensbourne had to make seven years ago, between expansion or a merger with a larger institution to ensure its survival. It chose the former.

But, of course, the financial crash got in the way of expansion. Student places are now capped and Ravensbourne is no longer able to expand its student numbers from 1,400 to 2,000 as it had hoped. But it was able to secure all its funding for its amazing new building before the retrenchment began, so this autumn it is moving from Chislehurst in leafy Kent to the Greenwich peninsula in south-east London. Its eye-popping new home is right next to Lord Foster's Dome, and you get a great view of it as you exit the North Greenwich tube station. The building is chevron-shaped with porthole windows and an extraordinary decorative tessellation of the kind designed by the Cambridge mathematician Sir Roger Penrose and reminiscent of something from the Muslim world.

The building came in at £70m, a good deal more than expected. That was because the site was so polluted, having housed the biggest gasworks in Europe, that millions had to be spent making it good. Baker begged and borrowed money from a wide range of sources including the Homes and Communities Agency, the London Development Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council. "We have just about covered our costs," he says. "It was hairy. Everyone wants an iconic building but no one wants to pay for it."

This week the building is beginning to be got ready for students. The studio where students will learn high-definition TV production is being wired up with weird and wonderfully coloured cable in advance of being kitted out with £2.5m-worth of equipment, mostly donated or supplied at a discount. The two atriums, one for students to hang out in, the other for events, lectures and celebrations looked immensely spacious without the furniture they will have shortly.

The new Ravensbourne was designed as an institution that would show the way for others. The plan always was that everyone should be flexible about their use of the space, to meet the criticism that higher education makes inefficient use of seminar, lecture room and studio space.

"By coming here, we said we were going to work differently," says Baker. "From my end I wanted a new institution in a new building, not an old institution in an old building."

They decided, for example, that they would not be able to supply everything students need, but would supply a core of facilities and to help them find the rest outside. So, for example, fashion students who need to learn screen-printing will be able to attend a print centre in Bermondsey where the college has negotiated a deal.

"The space is different, the way we teach is different, the food is different, the way we access what we do is different," says Baker. A small deli for students will serve only healthy food; if they want a portion of chips, students will have to go across the way to the Dome.

Teaching will be different. That means it will be in seminar form, says Baker. "The idea of 'sitting with Nellie', where a member of staff walks round a studio and says, 'What are you doing?', 'How are you getting on?', that will not happen," he says. "We've got to get more efficient and more effective, because the cuts that are coming are going to be quite heavy."

The other pillar of Ravensbourne's work is enterprise and innovation. There will be a floor containing hatcheries and incubators: the hatcheries for hatching out companies, and the incubators for incubating those companies. At the moment, 20 companies are being "hatched" at Ravensbourne's Chislehurst site, all the result of ideas students have for small businesses.

The college intends to incubate 100 companies within a year of opening in Greenwich. The hope is that these small concerns will stay in the locality and help to rescue the area from unemployment. "And we hope we will encourage a number of other companies to relocate here." Those are high expectations, but Baker seems to think he can realise them.

The business of creativity

*Saying that he didn't see many business-savvy music graduates coming out of higher education, music promoter Harvey Goldsmith gave the college £270,000 – out of proceeds from the Led Zeppelin concert that he organised at the 02 Centre – to fund a digital music course. The course starts this October and the idea is to produce a new breed of music producer entrepreneur.



*The degree in music production for media is designed to create opportunities for young people wanting to start careers as musicians and composers in film, TV, video games or interactive media. It will show them how to license and market their work. The Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund has provided the money for state-of-the-art music and sound recording facilities, together with three music scholarships.

"Students will be taught to license and control their creative work, tailor it to a diverse range of platforms and market themselves, says Lance Dann, subject leader for music and media at the college.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower