A true Commonwealth of design could become reality

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The maxim ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ might not be the most elegant phrase, but it sums up Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic’s pursuit of the old Commonwealth Institute building in London’s Kensington as a potential home for the museum (www.designweek.co.uk, 30 October).

In 2006, Sudjic, an eminent architectural pundit, made a well-reasoned plea for the early 1960s building to be saved from Government plans to demolish it in his column in The Observer.

Known as the Parabola because of its hyperbolic paraboloid roof, the building by architect RMJM was worth saving, he wrote, if only because of its significance in Britain’s recent history, ‘presenting the Commonwealth as a viable contemporary alternative to the outdated concept of Empire’.

The arguments against conservation when Sudjic wrote the piece were that the Government could find no further permanent use for it after the institute decamped in the late 1990s. A few years of Spectrum office furniture shows and other events hadn’t secured it’s future.

What better use now though than for the Design Museum to expand into the Grade II-listed building, for which architect Rem Koolhaas’ practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture has been devising a scheme since March. Like the Commonwealth, design offers a new way of doing things – as Design Museum founder Terence Conran has shown since the 1960s.

We’ve shifted away now from design as object to design as process and partnership, and with bigger premises the Design Museum will be better able to demonstrate this – as it is currently doing with its portrayal of Patricia Urquiola’s porcelain work for Rosenthal.

More space will enable the Design Museum to develop its collection and grow its education programme. But for that space to be in the Parabola completes a circle, creating a hub for design across disciplines on a site handy for the grander Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. Let’s hope it happens.

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