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Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing

KCL - Classical Now - 0249The Inigo Rooms in Somerset House East Wing were developed by King’s College London as spaces for cultural engagement.

The rooms play host to a wide range of exhibitions, activities and events, created through cultural partnerships and collaborations that connect the public with the work of King’s academics and its student communities.

The Inigo Rooms consist of five rooms, with a capacity ranging from  8-40 people, on the lower ground level of Somerset House East Wing.

Image credit:
The Classical Now, presented by the Department of Classics in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, in partnership with the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM).

History of the Inigo Rooms

The Inigo Rooms are named after the celebrated architect, engineer and impresario of spectacle, Inigo Jones. Between 1615 and 1642, as Surveyor to the King’s Works, Inigo Jones transformed the first Somerset House into a centre for the celebration and conduct of politics through the power of performance, the arts of design, and the rhetorics of public display.

From the moment it opened its doors to students in 1831, King's College London set its sights on acquiring the neighbouring East Wing - an ambition that has lasted 180 years. The relationship between the College and the Crown offices that occupied the East Wing were sometimes difficult. In 1875, for example, a dispute blew up when new windows were added to the façade overlooking King's. When the College Council complained at the loss of privacy, the Board of Works tersely replied that 'the terms under which the college is held are not such as to enable the Council to restrict Her Majesty from opening windows in Somerset House whenever she may think proper...'

Efforts to acquire the East Wing started in earnest after the First World War when the College began to outgrow its premises. It was even suggested at this time that it be relocated to new premises in Bloomsbury. When these plans fell through, a new top floor was instead added to the main building to house the Anatomy Department and the College's Surrey Street estate was purchased.

The next major attempt took place in the early 1960s, following the publication of the Robbins Report on Higher Education in 1963. The Report recommended a large expansion in student numbers accommodated by a new building programme. The College dusted off its so-called 'quadrilateral plan' to create a campus stretching from Norfolk Street in the east to Waterloo Bridge Road in the west. Plans were also drawn up for modern high-rise buildings along the Strand and Surrey Street to house a new library and laboratories. A contemporary report declared that that the redevelopment would provide 'London with a university precinct on the Strand of which the capital could be proud'. The plans were revisited in the early 1970s by the then Principal, Sir John Hackett. Funding problems and the unwillingness of the Government to re-house its civil servants prevented further progress, despite intensive political lobbying.

In 1971 the Evening Standard newspaper led a public campaign for Somerset House to be transformed into a new public arts venue for London. Proposals were also aired for the relocation of the Tate Gallery to the site. This proved to be prescient: during the 1990s the opening of the Courtauld Gallery and river rooms and the replacement of the car park by the Fountain Court did indeed mark the next stage in the transformation of Somerset House. On 29 February 2012, Her Majesty The Queen officially opened Somerset House East Wing, one of London's most beautiful and iconic buildings. The official launch of Somerset House East Wing comes after 18 months of restoration, which began when King’s secured a 78 year lease for the building in 2009. The interior has been stripped of alterations made over the years, new lifts have been installed and the basement floor lowered. Original features, such as cornices and fireplaces, have been refurbished. The interior decoration has been carefully conceived to complement the historic setting of the building. Designers have re-introduced colours in keeping with the Georgian style, whilst creating a fresh and modern interior suited to a working building for the 21st century.

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