New London Design Museum Plans Unveiled

The Design Museum in London today revealed the plans for its new space, which will open in 2014 and be sited at the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington, in the west of the city.

Rendering of the exterior of the new Design Museum

The Design Museum in London today revealed the plans for its new space, which will open in 2014 and be sited at the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington, in the west of the city.

The move comes as a result of the museum outgrowing its current venue, on London’s Shad Thames. “It’s full to the brim and bursting at the seams,” said the Design Museum’s founder, Sir Terence Conran, at the launch event. The new space will give the Design Museum three times more room to showcase its collection, and the museum hopes to double its visitor numbers to 500,000 a year as well as expand its education and events programmes. The film below further describes the project.

Entrance foyer rendering

Second floor rendering

The move sees the Design Museum join Kensington’s ‘cultural corner’, where it will sit alongside the V&A, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal College of Art and the Serpentine Gallery. Conran hopes the expanded space will help raise the profile of design in the UK. “If you go to the Scandinavian countries, design is part of their DNA,” he said at the launch. “We’ve not achieved that in this country, but we ought to. I hope the new Design Museum will help persuade governments that housing, public buildings, transport etc are vitally important and can improve the quality of life of the people who live in this country.” Conran said that if he were a graduating student today he would team up with an engineering graduate to “make things of quality and originality”. “That’s what people expect of this country,” he continued, “but we don’t ever seem to recognise this.” He sees the museum as a champion of British design. “The Design Museum will be the showcase for these projects and it will educate.”

Second floor, showing the permanent exhibition. All renderings from John Pawson Ltd, with images by Alex Morris Visualisation

The second floor of the Commonwealth Institute today

The £80 million project will see the Commonwealth Institute, which has lain dormant for a decade, given a new lease of life. Designs for the site have been produced by John Pawson, who has redesigned the interior of the Grade 2* listed building, and OMA, who has planned the surrounding residential development consisting of three buildings. Pawson described the main challenge of the project being that of “working inside the skin of an existing building”.

“The Commonwealth Institute is iconic,” he continued, “it opened in 1962 but still to me seems very daring.” Pawson’s intention is to work with the existing space, and in particular to retain the impact of the building’s original hyperbolic paraboloid roof structure. The space will be opened up to allow sightlines to the roof; from the entrance foyer a visitor will see the entire route through the building, winding up from the central platform around the opening at first floor level to the permanent exhibition space on the top floor and the sweeping curve of the roof. As one might expect from Pawson, the material palette is purposefully restricted, and he intends to “retain and enhance all the qualities of the existing building, and retain the atmosphere”.

The space is split over five floors in total, providing approximately 10,000 square metres of space. It will feature rolling exhibition spaces and an exhibition of the museum’s permanent collection, designed by Studio Myerscough, as well as a café, restaurant, members’ room, bookshop and design store. Also included is the new Sackler Library, funded by the Dr Mortimer & Theresa Sackler Foundation, which will focus on design and architecture.

The exterior of the Commonwealth Insitute today

The interior of the Commonwealth Institute today. All photos by Luke Hayes

The new museum will be the third iteration of the Design Museum in London. The first was the Conran Foundation’s Boilerhouse Project, which opened in 1981 in the basement area of the V&A. While the Boilerhouse, and its director, Stephen Bayley, brought many significant exhibitions of design to the city, including exhibitions on Issey Miyake, Sony, Dieter Rams, and Coca-Cola, it proved challenging to the V&A curators at the time and in 1987 metamorphosed into the Design Museum and relocated to Shad Thames. The new museum opened in 1989, and its current director, Deyan Sudjic, joined in 2006. Sir Terence Conran today expressed some satisfaction at the museum’s return to the “V&A’s territory”, and seemed keen to stoke up a little good-natured rivalry between the two spaces, as well as to emphasise the Design Museum’s devotion to contemporary design and design solutions. “The V&A’s a wonderful place and always an inspiration to designers, but it’s a museum of decorative arts and we are a museum of industrial arts,” he said. “We are a museum of industry.”

More info on the new Design Museum (and the present museum) is online at



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