Breaking Ground At London’s New Design Museum

Yesterday marked an important event on the timeline of the Design Museum’s future plan.  Sir Terence Conran, founder of the Design Museum; Deyan Sudjic, current director; and Luqman Arnold, Chairman of the Trustees were all present to mark the momentous occasion.

The Design Museum was founded in 1989 by the legendary designer Sir Terence Conran.  Since the beginning the museum has sought to celebrate all aspects of design (including product design, architecture, graphic design, and fashion) on a level on par with traditional visual art seen at institutions throughout London.  On the occasion Conran remarked, “I have worked as a designer for over sixty years and this is one of the truly momentous moments in my long career.  The Design Museum has come so far to get to this point – from a basement boiler room in the V&A to the old banana warehouse overlooking Tower Bridge and now we embark on the next exciting chapter and our new home at the Commonwealth Institute.  The hard work begins now because intelligent design improves the quality of all our lives and is vital to our economic future.  We must have the vision and ambition to create a world class Design Museum promoting and celebrating design and architecture in this country that can significantly shape the future of this country.”

The current location of the museum on Shad Thames has housed many temporary exhibitions and seen about 200,000 visitors annually, but recently the museum has been experiencing some growing pains.  With exciting exhibitions, including Christian Louboutin’s shoe design and the annual Design of the Year exhibitions among others, it was decided to relocate the museum to allow for an increased exhibition and learning programme.  The new Design Museum will be in the former Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street.  Moving from one end of the city to the other will place the new museum in the neighborhood of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Serpentine Gallery, Royal College of Art, and Leighton House Museum.  Such company makes an already very strong design community in the area, and it can be said that the relocation leaves a bit of a cultural void to the southern bank of the river by Tower Bridge.

The derelict historical structure is being redesigned for the museum purpose by John Pawson.  The homegrown architect recently had an exhibition at the Design Museum, and the clean, contemporary modernism of his style will surely create a beautiful and subtle space.  Some renderings of the new design has been released to the public, and it is safe to say with Pawson as architect, the museum is in capable hands.  When opened (currently scheduled for 2015), the Design Museum will have triple the space of its current location and significant space devoted to its education programme.

Unlike a majority of the major museums in London, the Design Museum is not free to the public.  It does not receive funding from the Arts Council, so its income is derived solely through admission and donations.  In order to fund such a large undertaking, the museum has received generous support from major arts patronage foundations as well as a newly announced donation from Swarovski towards the learning centre.

Adding to the excitement at the groundbreaking ceremony, a time capsule filled with objects chosen by some of the greatest figures in design was placed in the foundation.  Some designers chose to include items of their own making, such as Zaha Hadid who included a model of the MAXXI Museum in Rome and Vivienne Westwood who included memorabilia from her line seen at the 2012 London Fashion Week.  Sir Terence Conran thought fit to include the iPhone 4S as a symbol of contemporary technological and communication design, as well as a tine of anchovies and bottle of Burgandy.  Perhaps future generations of designers will be sipping rather aged wine while reviewing the contents of the capsule.  The 2012 Olympics made a significant contribution to design and this is represented as well.  The award-winning Barber Osgerby Olympic torch and Team GB cycling helmet were selected by Deyan Sudjic and Isle of Man Olympic commemorative stamps were selected by Sir Paul Smith.  Perhaps the best contribution comes from the always-brilliant Thomas Heatherwick.  On his selection Heatherwick states: “I am nominating an incandescent tungsten filament domestic light bulb, the symbol of ‘having a good idea.’  They are now being phased out, but hopefully in a hundred years people will still be having good ideas even if the light source no longer looks anything like the light bulbs we know now!”

While the new museum won’t open for another couple of years yet, it will be anticipated with great excitement.  With more exhibition space to showcase ‘light bulb’ idea moments from the best contemporary designers the new space will build upon the work already achieved by the Design Museum.

Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012

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