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Vernon Square: A Glimpse into our New Campus

Autumn 2018 marked a new phase of the most ambitious transformation project undertaken by The Courtauld since we moved to our home in historic Somerset House in 1989. After years of intensive and creative collaboration, planning and consultation, the preparatory building works for Phase 1 of the Courtauld Connects project began at Somerset House in early October 2018 with hard construction works due to begin in spring 2019. The New Year will also see the thrilling transformation of another London building as we open the doors to our Vernon Square campus in the vibrant King’s Cross area in January 2019.

The visionary Courtauld Connects project will, upon completion of its two phases, transform and integrate our Gallery and Institute, fundamentally changing the way students, visitors and staff experience our world class institution. Our Vernon Square campus, which will house teaching and learning during the building works, creates a tremendously exciting opportunity to test new ideas and experiment with design and different methods of teaching and learning in new spaces. Most importantly, the Vernon Square campus will protect the student experience from any disruption by construction and provide some benefits that our current home at Somerset House does not have at present.

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Less than a year ago, after an exhaustive search across London involving consultation with students and staff, we discovered Vernon Square, an impressive, stockbrick former school built by the London City Council in 1913-16. Within walking distance of both King’s Cross and Somerset House, this spacious, purpose-built educational facility allows us to guarantee an optimal student experience. Built on a butterfly plan, it has two great wings with flanking semi-hexagonal towers and, rather startlingly, an open-air terrace on the top floor once used as a rooftop playground.

During the building project at Somerset House, Vernon Square will accommodate all teaching, research and conservation, as well as the Library, Public Programmes courses and most Research Forum events. Collaborating with a wide range of contractors and brilliant young designers, we are in the process of transforming the existing building into our new, flexible and experimental temporary home. For the first time, The Courtauld will be housed in a fully accessible building.

Improvements will be completed by late autumn in order to ensure a seamless move from Somerset House in time for the beginning of term in January. Although The Gallery closed on 2 September, our East Wing of Somerset House will retain a lively presence and house a small Library collection (available by appointment), alongside Witt and Conway Library materials, our gallery and support teams, and our growing body of almost 200 wonderful Conway digitisation volunteers.

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From January 2019, most of The Courtauld’s activities and functions will be redeployed across the full four floors of Vernon Square. The ground floor will house the Library and associated study rooms and offices, with student working spaces. The first floor will be dedicated to the teaching and practice of Conservation, with specialised studios for Conservation and Technology and Conservation of Wall Painting.

The majority of the teaching will take place on the second floor, with its lecture theatre and eleven seminar rooms. The second floor will also house Student and Academic Services as well as the Object Study Room and Paper Conservation. Finally, the third floor will accommodate all academic offices, including a space for visiting academics and a generous common room for students and staff.

For the first time in the history of our institution Vernon Square allows us to bring together, in a coherent and integrated way, our teaching and learning, conservation, curatorial and research forum spaces, alongside social spaces for students, staff and visitors alike. Vernon Square will be a worthy home for The Courtauld community for the next few years.

Originally published in the 2017/18 edition of The Courtauld News

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