The Design Museum’s proposed move to the former Commonwealth Institute in London’s Kensington will extend the reach of the ‘Albertopolis’ cultural quarter, says Paul Thompson, rector of the Royal College of Art.
Thompson was speaking after Kensington and Chelsea Council and English Heritage approved plans drawn up by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ practice OMA to house the museum in a redeveloped Commonwealth Institute building. This would move the Design Museum 10km west from the Shad Thames home it has occupied since 1989.
The planned move has been welcomed by many in the creative industries. Thompson says, ‘[The move] would help the RCA to foster even stronger links with the Design Museum. It would also be great to see this iconic post-war building restored.’
Sebastian Conran, who is currently also making an east/west move, shifting from Shad Thames-based Conran & Partners to reopen Sebastian Conran Associates in its former west London home, says, ‘It is the most fantastic thing I can possibly imagine. The extra space will mean more exhibitions, an improved visitor experience, and more opportunities for educational programmes.’
David Field, founder of the Design Prima show, who ran the Spectrum exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute from 1998 to 2004, describes it as ‘the most spectacular venue I’ve ever exhibited in’. Field adds, ‘It will look fabulous, and I’m so glad that this little gem of a building will be open to the public again – it’s a national asset.’
The plans for the move have met with some controversy, with many architectural observers questioning the plans to alter the Grade II*-listed building. Initial plans were sent back to the drawing board by the council earlier this year amid concerns about the scale of the scheme.
But in the design world, the plans to add to west London’s museums have been met with near-universal approval. Conran says the move will ‘act as a magnet and focus for the creative industries’.
Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic says the new and approved plans will ‘give a neglected London icon a new life’.
Councillor Merrick Cockell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, says, ‘The arrival of the Design Museum, on the heels of the Saatchi Gallery, in two of the borough’s most iconic buildings will help secure our position at the heart of cultural life in London. [They] will attract visitors, locals and retailers to Kensington, helping secure its long-term viability and combat the recession.’
Meanwhile, over in east London, reacting to the potential loss, councillor Lewis Robinson, executive member of culture, media and sport for Southwark Council, says, ‘We’re very sorry to hear of the proposed move, but our ambitious regeneration plans mean Southwark is changing fast and bringing in lots of new attractions.’
The Design Museum story so far:
1989 – Design Museum founded, housed in former banana factory in Shad Thames which was redesigned by Conran Roche
2006 – Deyan Sudjic succeeds Alice Rawsthorn as director
October 2008 – Plans emerge to move the Design Museum to the Commonwealth Institute
April 2009 – OMA’s designs, which are later altered, are submitted to Kensington and Chelsea Council
September 2009 – Council and English Heritage approve revised plans