The Design Museum London has moved into new premises on High Street Kensington, a 1960s building that has been rebuilt around its original parabolic roof with new interiors by master of minimalism John Pawson.
Set on the edge of Harold Park in the up-market neighbourhood of Kensington, the building was only made possible thanks to a new block of luxury flats built next door with architecture by OMA that includes the Design Museum shop on its ground floor level.
This clever mix of private and public has not been without controversy but, in the end, it has enabled a fantastic building dedicated to communication the history of design. And this is no mean feat considering the current climate for arts and design funding from government.
The interiors are clad in oak with a three-story atrium acting as the focal point for the design. The oak soars above and recedes at the right moment to show the beauty of the parabolic roof. Recessed lighting and clean lines – characteristic of Pawson’s work – create a minimal effect that is beautiful, although all those hard surfaces mean sounds are amplified.
The Designer Maker User exhibition – announced via giant letters that morph each of these three words one after the other – offers a joining-the-dots moment on design history for me, with much of what’s there familiar from my recent Masters research. Items on display vary from bigger pieces – the front of a tube train, the Frankfurt kitchen designed by Margarete Schutte-Lihotzsky – to smaller items like the floppy disk or Olivetti typewriter, or an Issey Miyake dress.
Temporary exhibitions take up residence downstairs, while a cafe on the ground level is simple and functional in its design. Overall, the Design Museum London is a real achievement, offering a whole new generation a design education in a fit-for-purpose premises thanks to the hard work of Director Dejan Sudjic, and Terence Conran who helped found the museum and still funds it.
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