Review: Design Museum

Who decides whether design is good or bad? You do, according to the new Design Museum. Its aim is to give you the tools to make that judgement. To prove the point, they asked the public to vote for their favourite designs from the 21st century. The crowd-sourced results cover 200 objects, from 25 countries, and are displayed on a wall outside a new, free, permanent exhibition.

The museum opens the doors to its new home, the former Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street, on the 24th November. The structure was built in 1962 with a pioneering hyperbolic paraboloid copper roof, and is considered the second most important modernist building in the UK. Sadly, from the outset the building leaked water and was costly to maintain. The Design Museum’s move has meant the innovative architecture has been preserved, while a re-fit of the interiors has created a light filled space that showcases the stunning roof.

From the ground floor atrium the concrete canopy spans the length of the building. Two opposite corners are pulled down into steel housings, while the other two float up like manta-ray wings. A light oak staircase, softly lit with recessed lighting climbs to the top floor.

The top floor of the new Design Museum houses the permanent exhibition: Designer, Maker, User. It also provides the best views of the sweeping curves of the remarkable roof. Image courtesy of the Design Museum and Gareth Gardner

The top floor houses the new, permanent free exhibition titled: Designer, Maker, User. Only a tiny part of it was open for the press preview, so it is hard to provide a fair assessment. The aim is to demonstrate how design impacts all aspects of our lives and the practical considerations that impact a designers work. For example, new tube carriages have a life span of up to 40 years, a fact designers have to factor into their concepts.

The top floor is also home to the museum’s Designers in Residence, where the public can stop by to see designers at work.

Oak staircases and panelling, recessed lighting give the interior a soft warmth. The main staircase is part stairs and part bench. An interesting idea. Image courtesy of the Design Museum and Gareth Gardner.

On the ground floor, the opening exhibition is Fear and Love. Eleven teams of designers and architects from around the world have created installations that explore issues about modern life which inspire fear and love. A robot arm follows the movements of visitors challenging our ideas about artificial intelligence. Cases of death masks, that look bear a striking resemblance to the creatures in the Aliens movies, explore death.

Pittsburgh based designer Madeline Gannonhas created custom software to transform a 1200kg industrial robot into a living, breathing mechanical creature named Mimus. Watch it follow you up and down, and round and round!

The most striking installation examines recycling. Until recently, it was impossible to recycle clothing. Now machines capable of stripping garments down into their component fibres have been invented. The results are on show along with the labels and the discovery that many of them are false.

Fibre Marketplace by Christien Meindertsma, a Dutch product designer, explores the potential of recycling textiles. For the first time it is possible to break textiles into their component parts.

The final opening exhibition is the Beazley Design of the Year. Unfortunately, this was not open for the press preview.

All in all, the new Design Museum is a welcome addition to the Museum Quarter of west London. The building is remarkable and the larger space will allow more people to explore design across a range of disciplines. The second floor is home to the Swarovski Foundation’s Centre for Learning and the Sackler Library and Archive, and the basement houses the Bakala Auditorium.

Watch out for the block buster exhibitions that are sure to follow.


Design Museum, Kensington High Street, opens 24th November,

Useful Links: Design Museum

Feature image courtesy of the Design Museum and Gravity Road.


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