Walking into London’s newly relocated Design Museum feels like stepping into a medieval cathedral — except instead of gray stones and shadows, the vast entrance hall is a celebration of concrete, light and blond wood. Costing roughly $100 million to convert from its previous incarnation as the iconic 1960s-era Commonwealth Institute, the building is a welcome addition to London’s museum district, just a few minutes’ walk from the likes of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
Founded in 1989 by famed UK designer Sir Terence Conran, the Design Museum is a relative newcomer to the city’s museum scene. The Design Museum’s Kensington move — its past location was in a former 1940s banana factory near the Tower of London — has already paid dividends: the museum had over 100,000 visitors through its doors in its inaugural month alone. The new location effectively tripled the amount of exhibition space, thereby enabling the permanent display of the collection for the first time.
You’ll find this collection on the top floor of the building, an area that is free to visit — another first, as the museum was previously accessible only to ticket holders. The collection is an engaging record of the most important designs of the modern world, from telephones and sewing machines to chairs and slingbacks. A wall of televisions and monitors illustrate the trajectory of how the moving image has been brought into our homes and offices. Elsewhere, a selection of touchable items on a desk invites a tactile experience of various materials. Further on, a dazzling array of logos, cut out in colorful plastics, dangle from the ceiling.
As well as the permanent collection, the museum presents changing exhibits in a couple of additional spaces around the new building. The museum’s opening exhibit, “Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World” (through April 23), displays 11 new installations from architects and designers exploring issues from robotics to fashion to dating apps.
Next up is “Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution” (March 15 to June 4), which marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution to show how the Russia of the future was imagined at that time.
The museum will also present regular events and hands-on workshops for visitors keen to immerse themselves more fully in the world of design. Look out for offerings like “The Sunday Sketch,” a session with an expert illustrator leading drawing activities (the third Sunday of every month). Sessions through March will focus on drawing the building itself. The free Young Creatives program is perfect for high schoolers interested in design.
Whatever you do, make sure you leave time to visit the museum’s fantastic gift shop (and leave space in your luggage for all the beautifully designed objects you won’t be able to resist taking away with you!). The store is packed full of unique souvenirs like miniatures of London’s architectural treasures, plus stunning homeware, toys, jewelry and stationery.