The refurbishment and remodelling of the headquarters of the Royal Society of Arts in the Grade I and Grade II* buildings in John Adam Street London, has been an ambitious project to create an enlightenment coffeehouse. The aspiration is for it to foster the creative thinking and collaborative action needed to address the challenges of the 21st Century.
Coffeehouses, first established in the 17th and 18th centuries, were places where, for the price of a cup of coffee, people could meet to share ideas. The RSA was established in an enlightenment coffeehouse, named Rawthmells, in 1754 by a group of people with a shared vision for a better tomorrow. Like the original coffeehouse, they want their 21st-century version to be a place where individuals become part of a greater movement for social change – a natural home for anyone who wants to change the world. They see it as somewhere that enables people to connect, share knowledge, collaborate, and build new communities to tackle the social challenges of our time.
Burrell Foley Fischer were appointed as architects to address the challenge of meeting the RSA’s vision through transformative change of two mezzanine levels, with low ceilings and low levels of light, situated between the ground floor and basement vaults. The former small cellular rooms have been connected to establish an enfilade series of spaces for all-day dining, collaboration and quiet reflection.
The coffeehouse will connect stimulated minds with the lively exchange of ideas in a creative environment dedicated to progressive social change. A Hellerup staircase connects the two mezzanine levels and forms the centrepiece of the coffee house. The wide, wooden steps of the Hellerup can also be used as seating, converting the space into an auditorium, where public speaking, debate and discussion amongst coffeehouse guests will be actively encouraged. Through the RSA's existing digital platforms, the auditorium will be plugged into their global network.
As well as providing superb coffee (the jet fuel for enlightened thinking) and excellent all-day dining, the coffeehouse will also provide innovative spaces designed to foster collaboration. The original enlightenment coffeehouses were shaped by the people who frequented them, and the RSA coffeehouse will be no different.