It’s already been a few months now since the flashy re-opening of the new Design Museum in London (the original Design Museum was found by Sir Terence Conran in 1989), and as anticipated it has attracted a huge number of visitors.
You could say this was achieved through its innovative exhibitions, (currently showing Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World and Beazley Designs of the Year as well as the museum’s permanent displays), the sleek new restaurant Parabola that is set within its premises, and of course their not-to-miss gift shop. All of these components by all means make this museum such a worthwhile place to visit, however we guarantee that it will be the Design Museum building itself that will prove to be the real show stopper.
"Museums are special places, the architecture of museums does matter a lot. It's what makes people feel that they've come somewhere special, it's what makes you feel it’s worth leaving your screen." Deyan Sudjic (current director of the Design Museum)
The building was not purpose built for the museum, but rather a post-war 1960 Grade II building restored back to use after five years of careful construction. We can imagine all the extra attention that was poured into this restoration process in order to keep hold of parts of the original building, and to bring in new elements to the formula; for example in order to pull the original concrete flooring apart, the iconic copper hyperbolic paraboloid roof had to be held up carefully by a steel structure. For the architect John Pawson, who is known for his simplistic and yet impactful designs, the Design Museum is his first major work for a public space.
‘There are ‘moments’ in the building that I relish every time I walk around, but I think it is really the way everything comes together the new and the old that gives me the greatest pleasure. 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’ (John Pawson on the Design Museum)
We love how the distinctive shape of the museum’s roof is translated indoors into the silhouette of the ceiling so that you can experience it from within. The end result is captivating from the moment you enter the building: whilst walking through the main entrance to the central atrium you are drawn to look up at dramatic concrete ceilings and beams that seem to “open” up the room as you maneuver yourself through this unique space. It offers new perspectives to encounter the building from, depending on the different angles and different ground levels you are in; I personally went up, down and around the wooden floors three or four times in order to try and soak it all in! The length of the ceiling stretches across the whole museum, so everything seems to sit cozily under the massive umbrella of a roof. The oak stairways and the LED lights balance out the cold concrete to create an overall warm atmosphere.
The use of raw concrete here reminds us a little of the Tate Modern and the new Switch House. In fact one of the main motives of the new Design Museum was to create a public space in Britain dedicated to contemporary design that was equivalent in importance and status as the Tate Modern is for Modern and Contemporary Art. Going beyond the aesthetics, we think it’s safe to say the Design Museum is on their way to being just that.
It is such an exciting space to engage with. There is now three times as much room than in the museum’s previous home in Shad Thames, that allows three different exhibitions to run simultaneously; new learning spaces sponsored by the Swarovski Foundation with hopes of attracting around 50,000 learners; there is also an events space, an exclusive member’s lounge, designers in residence studio, a library… the list goes on! It is truly a dynamic museum, which aims to engage and educate young children, motivate professional designers and give an insight into the beauty and importance of Design to the general public.
A detail which we really love about the Design Museum are the rows of leather bench seats bang in the center of the central atrium. It’s simply because it invites you to appreciate the success of the architectural design around you whilst you casually and comfortably wait for friends or just to take a break. It reminds you that as well as the amazing designs exhibited in the exhibitions, an great example of design is just over your heads, and in fact everywhere around you.
Designer, Maker, User. Whilst also being the title of the Museum’s permanent exhibition, these are the words flashing up on the main display designed by Studio Myerscough, rhetorically asking visitors which role they may relate themselves to. It’s a clear reminder that no matter what you may be, Design will always have a prominent presence and an important effect in your life, whether you like it or not!
Do not miss the free exhibition on the mezzanine level, which showcases a series of photographs by Koto Bolofo which documents the construction of the Design Museum building.