Design Museum Could Be New Tate Says Conran

Design Museum reveals plans for massive expansion and move to Kensington Commonwealth Institute with the promise of ‘doing for design what the Tate did for contemporary art in London’

The Design Museum has today revealed plans for massive expansion in a bid to become the world’s leading museum of design and architecture – to ‘do for design what the Tate did for contemporary art in London’. The £80 million project, being handled by two of the world’s most important architectural practices – John Pawson and OMA –, will see the Design Museum re-open in Kensington at the former Commonwealth Institute building in 2014. With the museum at Butler’s Wharf now ‘full to the brim and bursting at the seams’ (Sir Terence Conran), the Design Museum is to transform itself in scale, trebling its space in the hope of doubling its audience to 500,000 a year.

In the words of benefactor Sir Stuart Lipton, ‘without Terence [Conran, the museum’s founder], the word “design” would hardly exist in this country’. And this new initiative grows out of Conran’s belief in the fundamental ‘importance of design in our society’, especially at ‘this particularly dire moment in time’: through massively expanding the operations of the Design Museum, Conran hopes to make design ‘part of our DNA’, as it is in Scandinavian countries, and to pose the question; ‘what role design can play in giving this country a new energy?’

Following the logic of Margaret Thatcher when she included Design/Technology on the National Curriculum – that ‘a better educated consumer forces manufacturers to make better products’ – Conran believes that, by educating the public in design, the UK can begin to live up its reputation as ‘the most creative nation of the world’: ‘Sadly we are no longer the workshop of the world, and never will be again: but we can a workshop!’ Citing Dyson, Burberry, and Apple designer Jonathan Ive, Conran has emphatic faith in our potential to create ‘unique, beautiful quality, British products’. 

The move into the ex-Commonwealth Institute makes perfect sense as a design icon in itself, epitomising everything that was radical in architecture during the 1960s. This Grade 2* listed building, unoccupied for over a decade and in a state of (chilly) disrepair, is to be given an contemporary make-over by the internationally celebrated John Pawson: working ‘inside the skin’ of the building, he hopes to ‘re-tune’ the existing architecture to make it feel as ‘fresh as it did in the 1060s’. For Pawson, ‘There is particularly nice symbolism in the fact that in making this legacy for future generations, we are saving a work of iconic architecture’. ‘I hope the result will demonstrate that you don’t need to demolish old buildings to make wonderful new public space’, he added.

The move has the added benefit of bringing the Design Museum into London’s museum quarter, into the borough of the V&A, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal College of Art and Serpentine Gallery.

In the words of…

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson: ‘Our city is a hotbed of creativity, the epicentre of design, and deserves a world-class museum to celebrate the amazing work being created here in the UK and around the world. … This new museum puts design firmly in the spotlight and will become a must see destination for visitors as well as designers and students.’

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘It is immensely exciting to see the plans for the new Design Museum. … The UK leads the world in design and architecture and it is entirely appropriate that we should be creating the world’s greatest Design Museum at this iconic London landmark.’

Words/Photo of Terence Conran by Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst

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