The transformative power of creative thinking

UAL: Chelsea College of Art at Millbank is in the former Royal Army Medical College. It comprises of a collection of Edwardian red brick, stone detailed buildings that look orderly and correct in the way Edwardian buildings do, arranged around an oblong parade ground. There’s a bit of the Mary Poppins about them.

It’s hard to think of a more radical shift of use from being a teaching and research hospital for the military to becoming home to an art school for 1,400 students.

Soldiers were once treated on this site for war wounds, shell shock, gangrene and kilt injuries. You read that right. During one winter in WW1 several Highlanders were admitted to hospital with injuries caused by the swing of frozen, mud-caked kilt pleats. Now, in the same spaces, art students explore, think and make. They use workshops, a library and gallery space to explore materials and techniques from metal to ceramics, photography to textiles.

It’s hard to know where to stop when listing Chelsea alumni. Just a flavour then: David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Elisabeth Frisk, Chris Ofili.

The headline quote is from David Crow, Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of Colleges for Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges of Art. Complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are the top three skills for the future identified by the World Economic Forum. No wonder we feel at home working with UAL!

We were invited by Chelsea to apply the design strategy we used successfully in the UAL Camberwell College of Art. We applied matt sealed vinyl print signs directly onto the walls. To accommodate the shorter site lines – the spaces are simply more compact than those at Camberwell – we rescaled signs for Chelsea. We stayed true to the discipline and authority of the UAL brand.

Part of navigation around the orderly campus is through 12 feature walls dedicated to student art. As well as helping navigation it’s also a clear sign that the space belongs to the students now.