London’s Design Museum, which has vacated its previous location at a former 1940s banana warehouse in Shad Thames, moves to its new home at Kensington High Street in west London. Designed, by John Pawson, the new site at the former Commonwealth Institute is just a stone’s throw away from the Royal College of Art, the V&A Museum, the Science Museum and the Serpentine Galleries.
Pawson’s conversion of the 1960s building will triple the museum’s current exhibition spaces to almost 10,000 square metres, allowing the museum to accommodate the first permanent display of its collection, alongside two temporary exhibitions. It is hoped the move will bring in an extra 400,000 visitors each year.
Pawson’s plans for the £83 million transformation of the Grade II* listed building were first unveiled in 2012 and scheduled to complete in 2014. But the renovation of the building, which has a distinctive hyperbolic paraboloid roof that dips at its centre, has been ‘inherently problematic architecturally’ and caused its opening to be delayed by two years. Many of the exterior details of the former Commonwealth Institute building will be retained.
An atrium will cut through the museum’s 10,000 square metre floor plan. The excavation of a large double-height basement below the building will host galleries and an auditorium. But the largest of the museum’s galleries will be placed at ground level and used for temporary exhibitions.
The £20-million interior fit-out by Willmott Dixon Interiors has begun in June. Studio Myerscough is designing the permanent display areas, while the museum’s visual identity has been overhauled by Fernando Gutiérrez Studi. Lighting is being devised by Concord, and Cartlidge Levene are creating the signage system.
The museum’s first pair of temporary exhibitions will be 'Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World' by the museum’s chief curator Justin McGuirk and the ninth edition of the museum’s Designs of the Year. A Swarovski-sponsored learning centre and a library funded by the Sackler family will be set on the first floor.
The annual Designers in Residence programme will occupy the top floor of the building alongside a restaurant and members’ room. Also located on this floor will be the museum’s permanent exhibits, including a Vespa Clubman by Corradino d’Ascani, the Ettore Sottsass- and Perry King-designed Valentine typewriter for Olivetti, and Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK47 assault rifle.
Over 200 popular consumer items will be displayed on a Crowdsourced Wall, with a call for suggestions on the museum’s website. The spaces will be furnished by Vitra, and a partnership has been set up with publishing house Phaidon to create publications to accompany the exhibitions as well as a book about the museum’s history.
The museum’s current site in Shad Thames was sold to Zaha Hadid Architects in 2013 in a deal believed to be worth £10 million. Proceeds of the sale have been gifted back to the museum by designer Terence Conran, who founded it in 1989. ‘If you forced me to pick the single most rewarding achievement in my long design career then I would not hesitate to say founding the Design Museum in London,’ said Conran.
This article is contributed by London Design Museum.