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The capital’s new temple of design: Inside London’s new Design Museum

MET Studio Senior Designer Darren Lewis has an exclusive sneak peek of London’s new Design Museum.

The latest and hotly-anticipated cultural opening of 2016 comes in the form of the new Design Museum, relocated from its original Shad Thames location by Tower Bridge to the newly-refurbished former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington’s Holland Park. The Museum, now vastly expanded from its former riverside setting, sits within the Grade-II listed 1962 structure, its parabolic swooping roof overseeing all who enter its cathedral-like space and beyond.

Designed by John Pawson, the new interiors feature light oak panels, soft lighting and a sequence of staircases that rise through the entrance atrium connecting visitors to different levels towards the top floor, which contains for the first time a free-to-visit permanent collection. This collection charts key designs that have shaped the modern world across architecture, fashion, furniture, product, graphic design, digital media and transport. The space is certainly impressive, the collection is integrated around the angular roof, now visible up close and within touching distance. Morag Myerscough, working with exhibition curator Alex Newson, have hand-picked a selection of the Museum’s 8,000 strong product archive under the title of ‘Design User Maker’, which it is hoped will encourage visitors to think about design in new ways, whether they be professional designers or not. The exhibition doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions; is an AK-47 an example of efficient design, even if its output is devastating? Is the designer responsible for what an object is ultimately used for? A question that it is hoped will prompt the kind of debate the new Museum wishes to encourage.

Two temporary exhibition galleries grace the ground and basement levels, the first being Beazley Designs of the Year, celebrating the best in design of 2016, accompanied by a graphic identity by agency Hato that uses emojis and the concept of ‘liking’, which is weaved through the show in the form of digital interactives and animated voting. _Fear and Love_, an exhibition that demonstrates how design is connected to issues that inspire the emotions of fear and love has been designed by Sam Jacob and OK-RM, and presents eleven installations, including a partly-sentient partly-possessed (and partly-terrifying) robot that extends itself to greet visitors as they enter. Neighbouring the robot, an OMA-designed ‘EU-living room’ celebrates the Union with an item from each of the 28 member states; the United Kingdom portion of the design firm’s proposal for an EU flag, featuring a barcode strip of colour for each member, lies fallen on the ground; a visible nod to this year’s events that will impact on all our futures.

Overall the Museum is an impressive visit. It certainly feels it has found a home where it can explore the many questions and facets of design that its much smaller Shad Thames location couldn’t. There are, however, moments that make the building feel more like a high-end minimalist hotel rather than a space for acknowledging creativity, although this seems to be an intentional choice by the selection of its interior architect’s style. The scale of the atrium also adds slight complications; agoraphobics beware, this is a place for people-watching and stopping for the well-angled Instagram photo whilst navigating the rather time consuming walk to the top galleries. Time will tell if this open space will be filled with further exhibits, it’s too tempting for it not to be. But nit-picking aside, one cannot help but be inspired by the scale of the project and an experience that firmly puts design on the cultural and museum map for the 21st century. Design finally has a temple it can call its own.

The Design Museum opens its new doors in Kensington on 24 November.

 

The Design Museum

 

 

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All photos © MET Studio 2016