This week James Cartwright celebrates Zaha Hadid’s purchase of the Design Museum’s current Shad Thames home and her ongoing transformation into a national treasure. As always your comments are welcomed, nay encouraged, below…
Since 2011’s announcement that the Design Museum would be relocating from its current home at a former banana ripening factory in London’s Shad Thames to the infinitely more upmarket, and spacious, Commonwealth Building on Kensington High Street, the only hole in a flawless and timely plan has been the fate of the museum’s current residence. The Shad Thames site has been home to the museum since 1989, when it was purchased by The Conran Foundation, and has witnessed the museum’s growth from bright young upstart into an internationally renowned cultural hub. Simply leaving it to rot would be a terrible sign of disrespect.
Good news then that Zaha Hadid Architects will take on the lease as of 2015 in a £10 million deal that will transform the space into a permanent archive for the practice’s own work, as well as providing an exhibition space to display art, architecture and design.
For my money the Design Museum has always been one of the most alternative exhibition spaces on the London map. It might not have the all-out wow-factor of the Science Museum or the constant reminder of your own crippling insignificance that the Natural History Museum has in buckets, but their ability to turn the comparatively sedate world of industrial, product and fashion design into something truly approachable and engaging has always seemed like an admirable feat. That their residence has such an industrially significant past only adds to that.
And it seems likely that Zaha will maintain the same qualities that we’ve come to expect from this prestigious location, promising to “engage in a collective dialogue by exhibiting the research and innovation of global collaborations in art, architecture and design.” This might not seem like an important pledge, but given how under-respected and poorly understood design is within the wider world – especially in comparison to art – it’s reassuring to know that there’s another design-led museum on the horizon; and one that’ll thrust architectural innovation into the public eye too.
It’s only fitting that it should be Zaha Hadid who takes over this hub of British innovation. After her impressive involvement in last year’s Olympic Games she’s become a British institution in her own right and, like Conran before her, has done a phenomenal amount to promote our design pedigree abroad. This new investment into an enterprise that benefits the public seems like a logical next step, transforming her from one of the most revered women in design into a bona fide national treasure. With the economy in the state it’s in, anyone prepared to plough £10 million into a public exhibition space (even if it does serve as a storage facility on the side) should be afforded the highest praise.
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