A distinctive modernist building has been given new life as a world-class museum by OMA, Allies and Morrison, Arup, and John Pawson
The new Design Museum in London opens its doors to the public on the 24 November 2016. From a masterplan by OMA, it is the culmination of a five-year construction process and the long-standing ambition of founder Sir Terence Conran, who sees the completed building as “the most important monument of my career in design…so far.” At the press launch on 17 November, he went on to describe the Museum in Kensington High Street as a “cathedral of design” intended to “create a world class space, truly international, with the size and scope for the serious promotion of art, design and architecture.” Part of the brief given to the designers was clearly to create an iconic space with an eye to the future, but there were also challenges in addressing the past.
A landmark Grade II listed modernist building, previously home to the Commonwealth Institute, was chosen for adaption in order to house the museum. The complex renovation saw OMA led by Reinier de Graaf, Allies and Morrison, and Arup restore the roof and façade, while John Pawson remodelled the interior.
The opening of the museum included the completion of three residential buildings, also designed by OMA and Allies and Morrison.
De Graaf wryly observed: “The site was dead, and listed – the two often go hand-in-hand.” To re-invigorate the outside area, West 8 designed new landscaping, and the new residential blocks now flank the building.
Inside, the existing floors were declared unsuitable for the required load bearing, and this is where the conversion became radical. The designers decided to keep the existing hyperbolic paraboloid roof and rebuild the rest, creating an open area in order to create a space that Pawson describes as “wonderful for people, as well as objects.” This idea presented an engineering challenge, and the roof was propped up on a temporary steel structure 20m above the ground during the construction process.
From the visitor’s perspective, the Museum retains the look of a 1960s London building, as the new exterior is detailed to resemble the original blue skin of the building. However, on entering, the fresh elements of the design become prominent, and the arched roof forms a striking centrepiece. An immediately noticeable aspect is the use of oak staircases in the open central area, with one section of the main staircase comprised of bench-style leather seating. Museum steps are often used by visitors as an impromptu resting place, and the idea of incorporating this into the design as a conscious element adds a sense of ease and friendliness.
Throughout, it is possible to see references to the brief in the creation of an open and transparent space. Glass doors on each level reveal usually-concealed areas such as offices, while the double-height basement features a dedicated museum collection store with a window, allowing visitors a behind-the-scenes glimpse of pieces not on display.
An interdisciplinary and collaborative approach is evident, with a permanent collection display by Studio Myerscough, a restaurant and members room by Universal Design Studio, a Centre for Learning made possible by Swarovksi Foundation, flooring by Dinesen, furniture by Vitra, shelving by Vitsoe, lighting by Concord, a visual identity by Studio Fernando Gutierrez and way-finding by Cartlidge Levene. The overall effect is harmonious, as every element becomes part of the building’s purpose to showcase design.
The Museum has tripled its size to 10,000 sq m, compared to its old location in Shad Thames, and is expected to attract 650,000 visitors in its first year. Sir Terence praised the “manifest quality and intelligence of the design,” in a cultural destination he hopes will inspire and educate. Pawson looks forward to a similar reaction when it comes to assessing the possibilities of adaptive reuse, saying: “I hope the Design Museum shows people that you don’t have to tear down and start from scratch to make exciting new cultural spaces.”
Business Information Specialist