Design Museum London
The Design Museum’s new home in West London is characterized by an incredible level of detail, from a re-articulation of the innovative existing roof structure to subtle and sophisticated interior finishes.
Af Jason Dibbs
The new Design Museum occupies a heritage-listed pavilion formerly occupied by the Commonwealth Institute, which forms the centerpiece and public component of OMA’s Holland Green residential development in Kensington, London. The project brief for the museum called for the adaptive reuse and revitalization of the existing building, including the preservation of its iconic copper-clad hyperbolic paraboloid roof. The Commonwealth Institute pavilion was itself considered an important example of British post-war modernism, designed by Sir Robert Matthew and completed in 1962, hence the importance of retaining its most iconic feature — the manta-ray-like roof — in its role as the new home of London’s Design Museum.
OMA partnered with ARUP and local architectural practice Allies and Morrison for the preservation of the copper-clad roof structure and the design of the new façade, which pays close aesthetic homage to the former one. The retention of the existing roof required the implementation of a temporary steel structure to prop it 20 meters above the ground whilst the original concrete slab floors were removed and replaced, to facilitate the additional scale and functionality of the building. The original façade was replaced with a double glazed skin — detailed to replicate the blue hue of the original — to improve natural illumination and the environmental performance of the museum.
Concerning the adaptive reuse of the Commonwealth Institute pavilion, OMA’s partner in charge of the development, Reiner de Graaf, has stated that “in conceiving a future for one of London’s modernist buildings, we pay tribute to a period that continues to inform contemporary architecture. The Design Museum is flanked by the new residential blocks; like discreet servants, their restrained, orthogonal geometries pose a contrast to the dramatic hyperbolic lines of the historic exhibition hall’s roof.”
John Pawson’s subtle and sophisticated approach to materiality is perfectly expressed in the museum’s central atrium, featuring a palette of oak, marble, and concrete, framing the ceiling structure of the paraboloid roof. The various programs of the museum — consisting of permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, learning spaces, event spaces, and a café — are easily traversable via oak staircases and central circulation routes that form the perimeter of the atrium space.
Perhaps the designer himself, John Pawson, has best articulated the significance of his collaboration with OMA, Allies and Morrison, and Arup in redefining the heritage-listed 1960s building at Holland Park as the new home of the Design Museum. Pawson stated, “there are ‘moments’ in the building that I relish every time I walk around, but I think it is really the way everything comes together — the new and the old — that gives me the greatest pleasure. I hope the Design Museum shows people that you don’t have to tear down and start from scratch to make exciting new cultural spaces.”