Kensington works. The previous space, housed in an old banana factory, meant making a slow meandering pilgrimage down to Shad Thames. This new central location firmly plants the building in museum district (whilst livening up a slightly dull stretch of High St. Ken).
Converted from the old Commonwealth Institute Building, John Pawson's design triples the museum's current space. As you enter, you’re met by an enormous square atrium, which resolves itself into spiralling platforms, like a muted and elongated Guggenheim New York. Pawson’s trademark minimalism is out in spades. The whole thing is clad in cool pale nudey oak. The effect is somewhere between an airport, a hotel lounge and a boarding school gymnasium. Is this timeless design? It’s hard to say. It feels a little too contemporary, a little too safe, a little too bare. There’s almost too much space: nowhere to get lost.
That, though, is our only complaint. The light floods in through the conch-like roof and, tucked away in recesses of this minimalist cathedral, we find two temporary exhibition spaces, a permanent collection, design workshops, a library, an auditorium and restaurant.
As the museum opens, we’re given two exhibitions. Fear and Love is a display born out of a contemporary issue. We have OMA's Pan-European Living Room, which is furnished with a piece of furniture from each of the 28 EU member states (poignant).
The graphic designers Metahaven, based in Amsterdam, present a film about the marine wildlife conservation group Sea Shepherd, while Ma Ke’s philosophy is to create clothes that have a strong connection to the land and the rural traditions of China.
Beazley Designs of the Year have handpicked a selection of zeitgeist-y objects that promote or deliver change. This year we have a David Bowie album, a coffee cup for astronauts, the new Super 8 camera by Kodak and Yves Béhar and a pair of 3D-printed trainers by Adidas created from recycled fishing nets. The Transport list completes the six categories and includes a digital compass for bicycles, a crowdfunded bicycle helmet and a new communal electronic scooter system in Taipei.
The best bit though, has to be the permanent collection. Entitled Designer Maker User, the display houses everything from a Victoria Line carriage and an AK47 to a jar of Marmite, rubber gloves, cheese graters and diet coke cans.
As the director said, “before Tate was built there was a sense that contemporary art was somehow at the periphery of things, irrelevant to the mainstream of British life. It's changed so much. We can do that with design as well."
Amen to that. What an achievement – and, as funding cuts surround the arts, this might just be the last great new museum London is given for a very long while.
|New Design Museum, Kensington High Street
|Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London, W8 6AG | MAP
|High Street Kensington (underground)
On 24 Nov 16, Opening times TBA
|Click here for more information