Retuned by architect John Pawson, the Grade II listed building in Kensington will offer a ‘cathedral’ of design. WGSN’s Sarah Housley got a preview
The highly-anticipated new Design Museum will open its doors on 24th November, having moved from its long-time home in Shad Thames to a magnificent Grade II listed building – formerly the Commonwealth Institute – on Kensington High Street in West London.
With the move comes a tripling in size (to 10,000 sq metres), a new chief curator (esteemed design writer Justin McGuirk) and a brilliant new series of exhibition programming, including the upcoming exhibition Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World.
For the redesign of the building, OMA’s Reinier de Graaf worked with Allies and Morrison, Arup and John Pawson to re-engineer the space, replacing the floors, facade and outside plaza, while keeping the building’s famous paraboloid roof intact. Inside, a central atrium is framed by oak staircases and wide walkways, so that visitors are continuously gazing up at the focal point of the space, its concrete ceiling – which is sure to spawn thousands of Instagrams.
Double-height gallery spaces and that central arrangement keep every room and area feeling spacious and airy, and there are a lot of facilities – including a 200-seat auditorium, a library and archive, film studio, a coffee and juice counter, a dedicated studio for the museum’s Designers In Residence, a large shop, and a space for learning and hands-on activities that expects to welcome 60,000 participants each year.
Sir Terence Conran, the founder of London’s Design Museum and a major benefactor to the new Design Museum building, spoke at the media preview of the museum’s role in a culture where design has become a more high-profile industry and influence. “The importance of design to our economy is now truly appreciated. Design is very important to quality of life,” he said. “Design is about optimism, and that’s what [the new Design Museum] is about: the wow factor, but a wow factor of love rather than fear. We very much want to be international in our approach.”
“Design is fascinating because it does not stay the same, it does not stand still,” said Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum. “Design has to go on shaping how we see things, how we understand things. There could not be a more important time for institutions to be open to the world, and to continue questioning and being optimistic.”
All in all, the new Design Museum is brilliantly ambitious, both as a space and as an institution – with a lot to live up to, including an expected 650,000 visitor count in its first year. For the first time, access to the museum and its new permanent collection, Designer Maker User, will be free, with other exhibitions to be priced between £10 and £18. It opens to the public on 24th November at 224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG.