Home > Architecture & Urban Design, Design, Graphics & Illustration, Things I Like... > The New Design Museum at the Commonwealth Insitute Building

The New Design Museum at the Commonwealth Insitute Building

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Design Museum recently unveiled its plans by the architect John Pawson, for the conversion of the iconic 1960’s Commonwealth Institute Building (CIB) into its new home.

Designed by Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM) between 1960 and 1962, the CIB is possibly the finest example of a hyperbolic-parabolic roof in the country (see the cardboard model to the left as to what that looks like) and the architects original concept of “a tent in the park” reflects both the possibilities of the structure’s tensile, almost fabric nature as well as its setting on the southern edge of Holland Park.

Planned so that the exhibits from the various Commonwealth countries could all be seen at once from the building’s entrance, this resulted in a dynamic and almost futuristic interior with interconnecting bridges, decks and ramps, that you would have thought would work well for the Design Museum (more of which later). The building has been standing empty and unused for the last 10 years or so and only narrowly survived demolition when the Government tried to get it delisted. As it is a number of the support buildings and structures have been taken down as part of the redevelopment.

In the spirit of this blog, an interesting connection that has come to my attention is that one of the building’s original design team was James Gardiner, who was also the principle Exhibition Designer for the Dome of Discovery at one of my favourite subjects, The Festival of Britain (not to mention that Robert Matthew was one of the architects for the Royal Festival Hall).

The new Design Museum forms a key part of Rem Koolhaas and OMA’s redevelopment proposals for the site (now sporting it’s mandatory “catchy” name, in this case “The Parabola“) which was approved a few years ago, and I guess will start on site in the not too distant, if it hasn’t already.

It all looks pretty exciting, even though I’m not entirely sure what prompted the move from up and coming, cutting edge Bermondsey to smelly old establishment South Ken.

A couple of things slightly concern me looking at Pawson’s images below. Firstly the wonderful floating circular deck and its connecting staircases seem to have been sacrificed, seemingly ripping the heart out of the original concept. And the second thing is the unavoidable feeling of it all being a bit Beige Palace, which I can’t believe is the coolest colour for a design based attraction (or is magnolia back in vogue and I’m just behind the times).

Hopefully this is all just in the rendering, and the colours and vibrancy of the original building will be allowed to shine through the new scheme.

  1. February 20, 2012 at 06:16

    hey great site, i enjoyed reading it. keep up the good work

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