A trip to the new London Design Museum

14th January 2017

By Collette Black

It was a cold crisp Monday morning in London, a fresh start to a fresh year, well technically January 2nd but no one counts the slightly hungover actual first day of the year, right?! Anyway it makes more sense to start on a Monday. So for the first day of the first week of 2017 we decided to venture west to the new Design Museum.

I remember all the buzz about the big move to London’s museum hub at last year’s Clerkenwell Design Week. The Design Museum’s £83 million new home sits just down the road from the big names like the V&A and the Natural History Museum. The chosen site is a former Commonwealth Institute, an architectural artefact that had been taken over by trees and wild flowers before it was put in the hands of designer John Pawson and architects OMA who were tasked with transforming the derelict building and surrounding areas into a world-class institute for design…and luxury flats, because it is still London after all.


Like a lot of museums and galleries, I actually found the building the most interesting part. The permanent exhibition was tucked away on the top floor, squashed into a space that in all honesty felt a little too small and poorly thought out to be ‘designed’. Resembling your parents attic, on display was a jumble sale of fashion favourites, household goods and early naughties iPods – I always find it quite strange when items I once owned are now part of museum collections, am I that old?! But I suppose this is what these exhibitions are about, learning about how we’ve progressed and discovering the future. It was really interesting to read about some of the latest innovations, from drones providing humanitarian relief to solar powered compactor bins that use wifi to let the administration know when they’re full.


The somewhat cramped exhibition is perhaps explained by the huge oak clad entrance that forms the main body of the building. The space has been likened to a ‘mid-range business hotel’ by Observer critic Rowan Moore, and leaning over the third floor balcony you can kind of see where he was coming from. It reminded me more of my uni library, albeit quite a lot snazzier, with work spaces branching off along the walkways. For me the interior lacked character, the ceiling, however, did not. The copper covered tent-like roof, an original feature of the building, provided a fun and unusual focal point. Looking up you can see the framework of the structure, the beams almost twisting into the most beautiful shapes meeting a large kite shape that dissects the room.


To keep this incredible feature they had the mammoth task of propping the original roof up whilst they rebuilt the building underneath. A painstaking process that was captured, along with various other stages of this huge renovation project, on fifteen black and white photos that hang along the back wall of the second floor. Over 4 years photographer Koto Bolofo visited the site 40 times in order to document the building’s transformation.


For the past few months we’ve been surrounded by drills, paint and dust (lots and lots of dust) as our wonderful team work to create our beautiful new showroom. It’s probably something quite a lot of us have experienced and even though it’s exaggerated in a project of this scale, you can still recognise those familiar stages; the empty canvas filled with possibilities, the hurdles you inevitably come across, the lengths you go to to protect and enhance beautiful original features, it’s this drama that Bolofo’s atmospheric shots seem to capture. These fifteen pictures, that you could have quite easily walked straight past, were probably my favourite bit.



Despite its shortcomings the project is impressive and it was absolutely packed, which can only be a good thing for design both here in Britain and the rest of the world.

– The Design Museum is open Mon- Sun 10am – 6pm, you can see what’s on here.

Images by Gareth Gardner www.garethgardner.com and Koto Bolofo www.kotobolofo.com

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