New Design Museum opens in London
London’s Design Museum has moved to a huge new home. But how will it fill the space? FT’s Griselda Murray Brown talks to Edwin Heathcote
Produced by Griselda Murray Brown. Filmed & edited by Kevin Early.
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GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN (VOICEOVER): London's Design Museum has moved from the South Bank of the Thames to Kensington. Its new building was the former home the Commonwealth Institute. But it has languished empty since 2002. It's been transformed by the minimalist architect John Pawson.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: The funding is from a mixture of public and private sources, and the residential apartment blocks in the forecourt are a trade-off for this site. I'm here to have a look around the building with the FT's architecture and design critic, Edwin Heathcote. The Design Museum has clearly outgrown its old home, but why did it choose this particular place to move into?
EDWIN HEATHCOTE: Well, it was rather on the fringes. So, it was in East London, but it was on the south side of the river, east of Tower Bridge, in an area that was intended to be a cultural destination but really never became one. Here in Kensington, of course, it's absolutely put together with a huge, huge array of museums that London has. And in this building, with this extraordinary experimental concrete roof, so, it would have been a terrible waste to not use it.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: And what about what John Pawson's done with the interior? What do you think he's trying to do here?
EDWIN HEATHCOTE: Well, Pawson is renowned as a minimalist architect. I think what he's trying to do here is to create a relatively neutral background so that the exhibits can shine. It's very clean, it's very clear, it's very obvious how you navigate the building. Maybe it's a little too neutral in a way. But it's certainly one approach which allows what's left of the original building to really look as good as it possibly could.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: This is the permanent collection, which is free to view. The Victoria and Albert Museum is quite nearby, and that has thousands of objects on display. What's different about this?
EDWIN HEATHCOTE: The Victoria and Albert Museum has an incredible collection, which was gathered over 150 years, or 170 years. It has depth, it has range, it has objects of phenomenal value. This institution couldn't possibly compete with that kind of depth.
So, what it does I think rather is not so much concentrate on the object and the value of the objects but rather on the stories that surround product. The narrative, if you like, behind the making, the way it's been used, the way it's been portrayed in popular culture, in the media, and the way certain objects keep cropping up and become kind of visual cultural tropes.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: So, this is the Design Museum's first temporary exhibition. It's called "Fear and Love." Why is that?
EDWIN HEATHCOTE: The traditional narrative of modern design is that design makes everything better. That design is the way to solve a problem. But actually, in the last couple of decades, we've begun to question the simplicity of that statement. But actually, it's much more complicated than that.
This kind of continual consumption of culture, of consumption that we have creates pollution. It creates problems with globalisation, with child labour, technology, which is laying people off. These are all, in a way, problems of design. And what this series of installations does is to question that narrative.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: Is there a particular highlight you would pick out?
EDWIN HEATHCOTE: There are two installations right next to each other here, which I think illustrate the diversity of what's going on here. There's one which is a robot arm, which follows visitors around. And it's a little bit unsettling. You can't help but anthropomorphise it.
And right next to that is an installation by the architects OMA, which is very simple, but it makes a very clear point. There is one product from every country in the EU. So, 27 different products in a room setting. And it makes the point of how integrated actually Europe has become. Very simply with design.
At the back of the room setting is a vertical blind. And they've made it into an extruded EU flag using all the colours of the nations. And you'll notice that the red, white, and blue of the Union flag has dropped out. And behind that is a picture of the bombed out Rotterdam, which is a very obvious suggestion that this is what happens when you have disunity and nativism.
GRISELDA MURRAY BROWN: The Design Museum has gained a big new home here. The question is, can it fill all of this space? The atrium takes up a large proportion of the building. And the collection has never been as large as that of some of the museums. However, design is displayed here very creatively with the emphasis less on objects than on questions, concepts, and stories.