Celebrating 30 years of the Design Museum
Made in 1989
This year marks 30 years since the Design Museum originally opened its doors in a converted banana warehouse in Shad Thames, among the once economically vibrant London docklands.
Take a look back at the museum’s founding history in the 1980s to present day – from twenty-five years of exhibitions at Shad Thames to the future in its new home in Kensington.
'Asked to pick the single most rewarding achievement in my long design career so far, I would not hesitate to say firmly the Design Museum in London.' – Sir Terence Conran
The Boilerhouse Project
The museum's beginnings were in the Boilerhouse Project, an independent project at the V&A museum financed by the Conran Foundation and directed by Stephen Bayley.
The project's success proved that there was a public appetite for contemporary design.
In 1981 Sir Terence Conran led a consortium that won a bid to redevelop an 11 acre site at Butler’s Wharf, consisting mainly of Victorian warehouses that had fallen into disuse. Around 1986 a building site was earmarked as the new home for the Design Museum.
The site was originally a 1940s banana-ripening warehouse. It was most recently a store for South Korean military supplies before its conversion into Design Museum.
The architect was Stuart Mosscrop of Conran Roche, who had created the shopping centre at Milton Keynes a decade before. The interiors were designed by Paul Williams and Alan Stanton, also of Conran Roche.
It was deliberately designed to be a homage to the International Style of the 1930s as a sort of Bauhaus-on-Thames. Notable for its white walls, marble floors, generous balconies and glass-brick walls which let in lots of light, it was very much a statement of forward-looking progress, in contrast to the Victorian warehouses of the surrounding area.
The new museum was opened by Margaret Thatcher on 5 July 1989. On opening night guests ate miniature packets of fish and chips wrapped in the Financial Times.
Moving to Kensington
Following a long search for larger premises to expand its activities, in 2008 the Design Museum selected the former Commonwealth Institute, a 1960s building in Kensington High Street, West London, as its new home.
The unique landmark, a Grade II listed building had stood vacant for over a decade, was transformed by a design team led by John Pawson who made the building fit for a 21st century museum, whilst at the same time retaining its unique spatial quality.
The Design Museum worked with John Pawson on the interior fit out of its building. OMA were responsible for the overall master plan and in conjunction with Allies and Morrison for the refurbishment of the exterior of the museum.
Looking to the future
Thirty years on, the museum continues to promote design in all its forms, striving to make the impact of design visible to all.
Celebrate this important milestone and help support the museum’s future by becoming a member and enjoy special £5 talks throughout 2019 and priority access to the anniversary party on the 5th of July.
This year's temporary exhibitions have already seen great success with Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition and David Adjaye: Making Memory and anticipation is building for Beazley Designs of the Year 2019 and Moving to Mars opening this Autumn.
Design classics from 1989