“The best way to predict the future is to design it.” The Buckminster Fuller quote printed on the bags that accompany visitors, since 24 November, to discover the new London Design Museum, is a declaration of intent.
Yesterday the museum founded in 1989 by Sir Terence Conran and the critic Stephen Bayley was located at Shad Thames, in a former banana warehouse on the southeastern bank of the Thames. Today it has moved to Kensington High Street, in the former Commonwealth Institute Building (a landmark building from 1962, abandoned for years), a strategic location that combines the busy dynamism of South Kensington with the quiet greenery of the adjacent Holland Park, faced by the large windows, to create a genuine global hub.
The size has been boosted by 10,000 square meters, making it the biggest design museum in the world, organized under a spectacular hyperbolic paraboloid roof with imposing reinforced concrete buttresses, around the dizzying void of the central atrium. The latter leads to the staircase that extends from the ground floor, containing the shop, cafe and spaces for temporary exhibitions, to the mezzanine and the two levels for the permanent collections, offices and a restaurant.
The first floor hosts the Sackler Library and Archive, an auditorium and the Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning; the second houses the restaurant (with furnishings by Vitra and Artek, and lights by Flos) designed by Barber & Osgerby, studios for the designers in residence and a space of 652 square meters set aside for the permanent exhibitions (from the one of 200 pieces selected by web followers to the variegated “Designer Maker User” with exhibit design by Studio Myerscough).
A narrative layout that also in its composition conveys the perception of how the discipline is changing: design offers solutions, but also raises questions. There are many different personalities involved in this project.
We asked one of them, John Pawson, in charge of the conservative restoration and redesign of the interiors, what was the most interesting aspect of this professional experience. “I feel very lucky,” he said. “My first public museum project is not only in my home town, but is also very close to my house. It was quite a challenge, because we were working inside an icon of British postwar modernism, in a protected building. But constraints can be a positive thing, and contribute to guide creative thinking. As for the main source of inspiration, throughout the design process I kept going back to the sense of spatial euphoria I had when I visited the building for the first time and I lingered in the atrium, immersed in a dimension of emptiness, under the hyperbolic paraboloid of the roof.
What will visitors expect and find when they walk in this place? I hope people will be surprised by how comfortable and quiet it is, and I hope they will feel right at home. I have organized things in such a way as to make all movements seem natural and instinctive: this is not a building you have to learn how to use. It is a place where it is possible to have an encounter with yourself, not just with design.”
Two words on the relationship and dialogue with the curator-director Deyan Sudjic? “Mutual understanding.”
Text by Antonella Boisi