November 24, 2016

The Design Haven | Exploring the new Design Museum

Having always held a soft spot in my heart for the 1940s banana warehouse that the Design Museum previously inhabited I was rather disheartened to learn of its upheaval late last year to a new site based on Kensington High Street. No longer would I get to enjoy the shadows of the modernist typeface casting on the side of the building, while taking in the sound and scent of the river and embracing the times when the sun made it the perfect setting for a spot of peace and quiet. I said my goodbyes on the last weekend of opening, in true punk style, with zine making and a ‘fuck you’ attitude.

Little did I know that the new building would exceed all of my expectations and I would fall in love once again. The John Pawson designed building quite simply exceeds expectation and I couldn’t help but share my exploration of what I believe will fast become mine (and many others) favourite place to settle for a spot of people watching and of course innovative design.

The 1960s grade II* listed building offers triple the space of the previous building with 10,00sqm of light, bright and airy floor space over four levels, housing two major temporary gallery spaces, a free permanent collection display, a restaurant overlooking Holland Park, auditorium, studios, library, archive and new learning facilities.

The loving restoration of the modernist building by John Pawson shines through like a burning fire. Immediately you are met with a sense of calm and freeness as well as a feeling of awe and wonder. Known for his ability to create simple spaces filled with refined materials, the atmosphere is warm and the five years of hard work apparent. The ability to see across the whole atrium of the museum makes it almost render-like where everyone looks slightly like a posed ant – what is real and what isn’t? A seating area in the middle of the stairs, although seemingly impractical, provides the perfect setting for sketching and watching the world go by.

A distinctive concrete roof restored by OMA, Arup and Allies and Morrison provides a breathtaking element to the new tourist landmark. One that we will surely see gracing Instagram for many months to come – #aminimalminute being the oh so appropriate hashtag. Italian terrazzo flooring and oak panels add to the serene setting, further easing visitors into a sense of comfort and joy.

‘There are ‘moments’ in the building that I relish every time I walk around,’ says Pawson, ‘but I think it is really the way everything comes together – the new and the old – that gives me 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.’

And while I have always been a firm believer in the latter part of Pawson’s words, his initial talk of moments got me thinking. For we all have places in London that we hold dear to our heart and it’s normally the little things that make it count. The shadows of typographical signs. The visual communication of a simple arrow. The visual appreciation of a monochrome locker room.

The simple (or not so simple) addition of the rotating Studio Myerscough signage brings a moment of pure delight. Coloured triangles and bold typography, it was of course love at first sight. To then learn that this would be the entrance to the new permanent collection display which would be free to the public simply filled with me joy. Designer Maker User houses almost 1000 objects, viewed from the perspectives of designers, manufacturers and users, as well as a crowd-sourced wall. Suspended vinyl logos and a scale model of a new London tube train offer a variety of textures and interactive design. This is one for us all and I can think of nobody better to have envisioned it, with Morag fast becoming a favourite after the lovely Natasha introducing me to her work.

Of course, for me, it is the graphic design and typography that matters. While I appreciate the likes of the curious robot that inhabits the ‘Fear and Love – Reactions to a Complex World’ exhibition and the issues surrounding it, as well as the other thought-provoking installations and films within it, I also can fully comprehend that I simply am quite shallow when it comes to design. Quite simply put, I like design to be simple and ‘on a plate’. The ‘Beazley Designs of the Year’ exhibition provides the perfect mix with the variety of graphic publications, fashion, innovation and solutions.

Dependent on mood you can simply peruse or dare to find out more about any one of the 70 nominations. The opportunity to choose ‘what design means to you’ and view live results shows the rich diversity and opinion in our design community. Nobody is wrong and we are all included. From the Hato Press designed signage to the variety of studios and brands included in the exhibitions, it shows that design is always a conversation and one that we should certainly always continue. Visit, explore and have your own say – I’d be more than happy to come with you anytime.

The Design Museum officially opens to the public on Thursday 24th November (today!). 
224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG
Open daily, 10am-6pm


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Emma Jane Palin is a freelance art consultant, interior stylist and multi-award-winning blogger residing in Margate, UK. She has worked with various home and lifestyle brands not limited to West Elm, Apple, John Lewis, Habitat, MADE, Caran D'Ache + No.3 Gin. Emma is also a regular contributor to Hunker where she writes about design trends and interior advice.

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