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

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

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.’

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