Editorial – A new chapter opens for the Design Museum

When you’re admiring the visuals of what the Design Museum’s new West London home will look like, it’s worth remembering that as recently as 2005 the Commonwealth Institute – which will host the museum – was under threat of demolition.


Fortunately the Government backed down on plans to delist architect RMJM’s Modernist masterpiece, removing the shadow of the wrecking ball and opening up the path for the Design Museum to make the move to Kensington.

When the new Design Museum opens its doors in 2014 it will be the start of a new story, but it will also close two very important chapters.

The first will be the museum’s physical journey – from V&A basement to converted banana warehouse to classic 20th-century building.

Entrance foyer
Entrance foyer

The second will be its journey in status – from outsiders being sneered at by V&A curators for daring to put on a show about Coca Cola, to an establishment institution encroaching on Albertopolis.

This change in status is one that has been mirrored by perceptions of design itself. No longer widely distrusted and misunderstood, design is now perceived of as a force that – through graphics, products, buildings or services – can change the way people live.

Architect John Pawson’s work at the Commonwealth Institute is a textbook example of what good design can do. With a light touch he has both revitalised a once-moribund building and created a new context for the Design Museum whose job, as Terence Conran says, is now to reinforce ‘the importance of design to society’.

Second floor
Second floor
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