Move and improve: London’s Design Museum prepares itself for a new chapter

John Pawson's renovation of the Commonwealth Institute building in South Kensington
We explore John Pawson's renovation of the Commonwealth Institute building in South Kensington, which the Design Museum will call home from 24 November this year. Photography: Luke Hayes
(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

With the doors to the Design Museum’s much-loved Shad Thames abode now permanently closed, the finishing touches are being made to its new spacious home over in west London.

Set to open on 24 November, the new museum has been built within the Commonwealth Institute – a 1960s Grade II-listed modernist building with a sweeping paraboloid roof that sits just south of Holland Park in South Kensington’s museum district. With building costs coming in at a hefty £83 million, the remodelled Institute is the first UK public build by architect and designer John Pawson, who has thoughtfully brought the 1960s building back to life. Totaling 10,000 sq metres, the new museum offers three times as much space and seeks to attract 650,000 visitors each year.

Of course, it’s not just the building that’s being remodeled; the museum’s format and approach to curation are also undergoing an overhaul. For the first time in its history the museum will house a permanent collection that will be open to everyone free of charge. Located on the top floor of one of the museum’s three gallery spaces, the permanent display will eschew the typical chronological exhibition format and will instead embrace a layout that considers the displayed objects from three perspectives within the design cycle – the designer, maker and end user.

To make the museum experience even more inclusive, a crowd-sourced display of 200 to 300 design objects will be set across a 6m-long entrance wall. ‘We’ve invited our audience to tell us what they think is good design,’ explains chief curator Justin McGuirk. ‘We’re then going to collect these objects and put them into a dynamic display. We genuinely want to have a conversation with our audience – it’s participative curating.’

The museum’s two temporary exhibitions, which will still be ticketed, include a headline exhibition on the ground floor in the main gallery space called ‘Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World’. Here, the museum has invited ten architects and designers to create ten major new installations that address the role of design within wider 21st issues such as climate change, social injustice, data collection and privacy. Meanwhile, downstairs on the lower ground floor the museum’s popular ‘Designs of the Year’ exhibition will return for its ninth edition.

‘Until now contemporary design and architecture have either been a small scale institution talking to the already converted or a department within a larger general museum,’ says Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic. ‘Our strategy is to bring the values and scale of a national museum so that design and architecture are not simply a department but take centre stage.’

The Grade II-listed modernist building has a sweeping paraboloid roof

The Grade II-listed modernist building has a sweeping paraboloid roof, and sits just south of Holland Park in the heart of South Kensington’s museum district. Photography: Luke Hayes

(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

the renovated building totals 10,000 sq m

Soon to be completed, the renovated building totals 10,000 sq m, and seeks to attract 650,000 visitors each year. Photography: Luke Hayes

(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

The new location

The new location offers three times as much space as the museum's previous Shad Thames spot. Photography: Luke Hayes

(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

The museum’s format and approach to curation are also undergoing an overhaul

The museum’s format and approach to curation are also undergoing an overhaul. For the first time in its history the museum will house a permanent collection that will be open to everyone free of charge. Photography: Luke Hayes

(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

Alex Morris Visualisation

The museum’s two temporary exhibitions, which will still be ticketed, include a headline exhibition on the ground floor in the main gallery space called ‘Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World’. Pictured: visualisation, by Alex Morris

(Image credit: TBC)

Alex Morris Visualisation

Downstairs on the lower ground floor, the museum’s popular ‘Designs of the Year’ exhibition will return for its ninth edition. Pictured: visualisation, by Alex Morris

(Image credit: TBC)

Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic (pictured right)

‘Until now contemporary design and architecture have either been a small scale institution talking to the already converted or a department within a larger general museum,’ says Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic (pictured right). ‘Our strategy is to bring the values and scale of a national museum so that design and architecture are not simply a department but take centre stage’. Photography: Luke Hayes

(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

INFORMATION

The Design Museum will reopen on 24 November. For more information, visit the Design Museum website (opens in new tab)

ADDRESS

Design Museum
224–238 Kensington High Street
London, W8 6AG

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