The project includes the addition of a major residential scheme alongside the rejuvenation of the 1960’s structure at the edge of Holland Park. In December 2007, alongside 5 other competitors, OMA were invited by Chelsfield deputy chairman Sir Stuart Lipton, to consider the potential of the Commonwealth Institute site. Two years ago the grade II* listed building, one of the highest protection ratings possible in the UK, was threatened with demolition following a UK government proposal to delist it. This collaboration seeks to save the building by re-injecting life into the modernist monument whilst retaining its distinctive copper roof and parabolic form. New residential accommodation will integrate into the existing fabric, regenerating that end of Kensington High Street. Asked to comment, Reinier de Graaf, OMA’s partner in charge of the project, said OMA was excited by the prospect of this collaboration and intended to take a respectful approach to redeveloping the sixties icon: “OMA will explore a number of uses appropriate to the existing design, capitalizing on the building’s dynamic interior spaces. Careful consideration will be given to the relationship with Holland Park, possibly extending the park condition across the site connecting to the street. Any new residential development should serve to complement the qualities of the existing building.”
The greatest challenge facing the project will be acknowledging the architectural quality of the Commonwealth Institute whilst simultaneously creating a distinct and contemporary project.
“The site is complex: to the north it is separated by a wall from Holland Park and to the south it causes a disruption in the continuous frontage of Kensington High Street. The project will have to find inventive solutions to address these conditions.”
The Commonwealth Institute redevelopment is OMA’s 3rd project in London. OMA is also working on a new headquarters for Rothschild on St Swithin’s Lane in the City. Furthermore, OMA are developing a masterplan for White City in west London.
OMA was selected by the site owners from a shortlist of six international architects which included Rafael Moneo, Rafael Viñoly Architects, Eric Parry Associates, Caruso St John, and Make Architects.
The original building by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, completed in 1962 marks the transition from British Empire to Commonwealth and is regarded by English Heritage, the UK government's statutory adviser on the historic environment, as an important modern building.
The Commonwealth Institute project is led by Reinier de Graaf who also leads the masterplan for White City, the Riga Contemporary Art Museum, the new Waterfront City in Dubai and the Gateway City project in Ras al Khaimah (UAE).