Paul Chipperfield gives the new Design Museum the thumbs up – finding it a most inspirational place


This was an opening and relaunch I had been eagerly awaiting for quite some time. I had been aware of the old Design Museum at its former site by the Thames in Southwark, but, what with its (then) entry fee, plus the V&A’s spectacular ability to fulfil my inspiration needs, I had never got round to visiting.

However, with this revamped and three-times larger Design Museum opening at its new home on London’s Kensington High Street in late November last year, I could no longer discount it from my itinerary! Indeed, I had been counting down the months until opening towards the end of its five-year construction.


The Museum is based in the grade II listed former Commonwealth Institute building, redesigned by architect John Pawson. Spread across four floors, visitors walk into a central atrium and can see directly up to the highest level as a result of the open-plan design. It’s impossible, when entering, not to be struck by the elegant sweep of the roof and impressive architectural details – a fine home indeed for the Museum’s pieces. Based close-by to South Kensington’s thriving cultural district, the Museum will differentiate itself from the other organisations nearby with its agility and flexibility – changing exhibits frequently.


The Museum’s permanent curated collection is Design Maker User – a fascinating insight into the relationship and vital co-existence of the three roles. The aim is to diminish outdated ideas about design as elitist, and reflect its essential place in people’s everyday life. Breaking down set ideas of what “design” is, the collection is arranged thematically rather than split into traditional sectors of graphics, branding, furniture and product design.

“Design is a perspective,” says Deyan Sudjic, current Museum Director. “It’s not a thing, it’s an understanding. It’s always there whether it’s acknowledged or not. The way we dress, the things we choose to use, the way we use objects and possessions – these are all things which are shaped by design.”

The visitor will also find in the all-new Museum designer-in-residence studios, a library, archive, plus meeting and learning rooms, based throughout the rest of the building.

Sir Terence Conran, who co-founded the original Design Museum 27 years ago, says that moving to the Kensington location “is the most important moment of my career in design so far”.

“This will be a new cathedral of design,” he says. “The importance of design to our lives and economy is now truly appreciated.”

The Design Museum is based at 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London W8 6AG, and opened to the public on 24 November. Entry to the permanent exhibition space is free, temporary exhibitions have a ticket price.