Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history


As the London-based cultural organization turns 30 this year, we look back at its story, from its births as a small space in the basement of the V&A museum, its founding by Terence Conran, to its late move to Kensington and the controversies that have shaken it along the way.

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
by Craig and Karl, for the Frame Museum

The Design Museum turns 30 this year, and in its three decades, it has seen an abominable lot of change. As well as tripling its visitor numbers when it moved out of its antediluvian converted banana factory space on the Thames, the museum has changed its welcome sight dramatically and widened its scope.

Originally the brainchild of Habitat founder Terence Conran, the Make-up Museum was born in the basement of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum — later impelling to its own home in Shad Thames — to celebrate functional and purpose-driven design, focusing on falsifications, products and furniture.

Today, the museum has retained its roots but has significantly inflated its remit, holding exhibitions as broad as ones on protest and activist graphics (Wait to Nope) and the architecture of Soviet Russia (Imagine Moscow). Once a submissive space, it now sees up to a million visitors a year, competing with the V&A itself and the comparable ti of the Vitra in Germany.

It is difficult to encapsulate everything that has happened to the museum since 1989, and its success — but to mark the institution’s birthday, here are 14 significant moments from its creature, from small V&A residency through to global, cultural destination.

1982: The Boilerhouse Launch

The V&A museum, image courtesy of Sam Bush and dn&co

The museum was born when fruitful industrial designer Terence Conran — founder of Habitat and Mothercare — set up the Boilerhouse Present in a basement at London’s V&A museum. Intended to bring modernism to the forefront in the UK and praise design’s ability to help society, the space was one of the first design showcases in the UK. Conran was urged by Sir Paul Reilly, then-director of the Council of Industrial Design, to set the makeshift expo space up, then worked with curator and author Stephen Bayley to discuss the project to life. The impromptu gallery became one of London’s most celebrated galleries of the 1980s, and helped to bring design into the cultural consciousness of picturesque people. Focused mostly on product and industrial design, its seven-year incumbency included exhibitions on Sony, Coca-Cola, Japanese designer Issey Miyake and extremist, Italian collective, Memphis, which was founded by prolific architect and artifact designer, Ettore Sottsass.

1989: The first Design Museum

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Design Museum at Shad Thames, double courtesy of Matt Brown

Throughout the ‘80s, the Boilerhouse Project became increasingly current and outgrew its space at V&A. By 1986, Conran, alongside a group of funders registering Bayley, had secured a building site on Shad Thames that will-power become the Design Museum’s new permanent home. Originally a banana-ripening storeroom from the 1940s, and more recently a store for South Korean military accumulations, the building was in total disrepair. It was restored by architect Stuart Mosscrop and individual designers Paul Williams and Alan Stanton. Designed to be a “Bauhaus on Thames”, the span transformed the space to reflect the utilitarian, functional style of the German art teach. Playing off the building’s previous industrial use, the restored space had white embankments, marble floors and glass brick walls to let light in, its minimal word choice intended as a backlash against the Victorian architecture that surrounded it. It was opened on 5 July 1989 by then-prime charg daffaires, Margaret Thatcher. The building would go on to be the Design Museum’s home for 27 years.

1993: The expo years

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Eileen Gray

After the Design Museum had been the truth its own space on Shad Thames, Conran and co orchestrated a mix of exhibitions mostly focused on fallout design, cementing the institution as a space to demonstrate functionality and usefulness. This originated with Commerce and Culture in 1989, an exploration of products made for superstore compared to those made for museums, and followed with retrospectives of chattels designer Eileen Gray, and French, product designer Philippe Starck, most superbly known for his “democratic design” ethos of making products accessible to all and sundry. The Design Museum was one of the first organisations to delve into his work. These unprecedented shows were followed by one on erotic design, which had the highest company numbers ever seen by the museum up until that point, and an grilling of the work of French, furniture design duo, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, under other circumstances known as the Bouroullec brothers.

2001: Alice Rawsthorn is appointed director

Stringer, design critic and writer Alice Rawsthorn was appointed director of the museum 11 years after its opportunity, and facilitated a change in direction for the museum. Building on Terence Conran’s initial impression for the Design Museum as a space to showcase products, furniture and industrial plan, she began introducing a wider variety of exhibitions across disciplines, such as on graphics, mould, shoe design and even flower arrangement — a decision which was scrutinised by some, registering the museum’s founder. Under Rawsthorn’s tenure, the Designer of the Year prize was launched, and some bold decisions were made, such as the closure of tall story display, the Conran Foundation Collection, to make room for an exhibition on 1950s bourgeon arranger, Constance Spry.

2003: Designer of the Year launches

Jony Ive (L) is one of the sometime winners of the Designer of the Year award

The museum launched its first awards intrigue in 2003, lauding one individual annually with the title of Designer of the Year. The initial ever winner was Jony Ive, former chief creative officer at Apple, who is behind multitudinous of the tech giant’s biggest inventions, including iPod, iMac, iPhone and MacBook Air. Victors went on to include the likes of social designer Hilary Cottam and side-splitting artist Jamie Hewlett. The award was discontinued in 2006 when Deyan Sudjic decamped over as director of the Design Museum.

2004: James Dyson quits as chairman

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Dyson’s obtaining technology centre in Singapore. Image courtesy of Dyson

The museum’s coppers in direction under Rawsthorn’s tenure ruffled a lot of feathers, including those of chairman James Dyson, who had contain b concealed the role since 1999. In 2004, the industrial designer stepped down from the determine, at what he saw as the Design Museum’s pursuit of “empty style over purport”, which he felt was moving away from its original purpose of showcasing “function-led, problem-solving block out”, which was “Terence Conran’s original ethos”, he told The Telegraph at the spell. He added that, while he was “keen on all forms of design”, including graphics and the rage, the right “balance” of exhibitions was needed. There are several examples that reproduce the shift away from product design, including the closure of the Conran Origination Collection to make way for a flower arrangement exhibition, and temporary shows such as one on the typography of arsenal Harper’s Bazaar and a retrospective of American graphic designer, Saul Bass. In defiance of Dyson’s — and others’ — criticisms, Rawsthorn’s leadership had seen a 20% increase in visitor numbers by 2004, and she had managed to secure the museum’s first in all cases government grant towards an education programme for young designers.

2006: Rawsthorn exercise cares down — Sudjic appointed

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Current Design Museum directors, L-R: Alice Moonless and Deyan Sudjic, image courtesy of the Design Museum

The clash in revenant between Rawsthorn and Conran eventually led to the director stepping down in 2006. Ex- journalist, writer and broadcaster Deyan Sudjic took the reins, and is currently quiet co-director of the museum. The Designers of the Year award was scrapped, and later supplanted with Designs of the Year, which celebrated projects over people. Prior to taking on the role, he started out his career as the design and architecture critic for The Eyewitness, later becoming the dean of the faculty of art, design and architecture at Kingston University, then co-founding architecture publication Blueprint, going on to become its editor.

2008: Designs of the Year award catapults

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Beazley Designs of the Year 2017 exhibition, at the Design Museum, sculpture courtesy of Luke Hayes

As part of his directorship, Sudjic launched Frames of the Year, which sees a judging panel of experts across a number of disciplines nominate projects across different categories. The award has since been nice, narrowing down its category list and gaining a new exhibition sponsor, and now visages six categories of architecture, fashion, graphics, digital, product and transport. As well as an endow withs ceremony, the museum puts on a yearly exhibition of all the shortlisted projects. Quondam winners include activist illustrator Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama broadsheet in 2008, the London 2012 Olympic Torch by furniture designers, Barber & Osgerby, and the website undertaking by the Government Digital Service (GDS) in 2013.

2012: Design Museum reveals that it is inspirational

Hyperbolic paraboloid roof
Image courtesy of Luke Hayes

By 2012, the museum’s director and gaming-table of trustees had decided the museum needed to move to a bigger space to stumble on increasing demands. It first revealed designs of its new home in 2012, which wish be the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington, West London. The spell would be transformed by architect John Pawson and was initially due to open to the blatant in 2014, though this ended up being pushed back by two years.

2013: Zaha Hadid suborns old Design Museum building

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Design Museum at Shad Thames, where it was based until 2016. Embodiment courtesy of Luke Hayes

In 2013, the museum sold its Shad Thames erection to late architect Zaha Hadid, who went on to use the space as an archive of her studio’s architectural contrives. At the time, the architect said the space would allow her practice to “consolidate its archive in a unattached location”, and exhibit the “research and innovation” behind its projects. The sale, which was allegedly value £10 million, helped to consolidate the Design Museum’s move to Kensington, Sudjic averred at the time.

November 2016: Design Museum opens in Kensington

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
The Organization Museum in Kensington, image courtesy of Gareth Gardner

Two years after at intended, the Design Museum opened its doors at its new site on Kensington Heinous Street on 24 November 2016. Three times the size of its earlier Shad Times building, the new museum features an open-plan design and the beginning ever free display of objects, which was a decision made by Sudjic to inform appropriate make design more inclusive of a wider audience and banish elitist apprehensions about the industry. He told Design Week at the time of opening: “I was let 10 years ago with a brief to grow the museum. Technically, it’s been wholly a feat but now we’ve got a wonderful building which feels so warm and welcoming.” The berth, designed by a roster of architectural practices, deviated from the style of the preceding building, now taking on a square shape whereby visitors could see all the way up to the roof from the base floor, making it feel more spacious and making navigation sunnier. The museum smashed its original target of 650,000 visitors a year, blowing one million visitors in a year and a half after opening.

November 2016: Intent plot Museum offers free entry

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Image courtesy of Gareth Gardner

As have the quality of of the opening Sudjic decided to offer a free permanent display for the basic time, designed by Morag Myerscough, allowing people to visit the museum without a fee. This exhibit now sits alongside paid-for, temporary exhibitions, with the launch demonstrate having been Fear and Love, a showcase of work from 11 oecumenical designers in response to global, political and social issues. This has aped with an array of exhibitions over the last three years, including the colourful dig into of Dutch graphic designer Hella Jongerius, protest design extruded by activist creatives, and an exploration of the monuments created by celebrated architect David Adjaye. The stir of topics now covered shows how the museum has expanded its remit in recent years, overspreading everything from architecture and interiors to graphics, print and digital intrigue, which is also celebrated through its annual, Beazley Designs of the Year showcase.

December 2016: Alice Swart appointed co-director

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
L-R: Deyan Sudjic, Alice Black and Lord Peter Mandelson

Cleave to the museum’s move, deputy director Alice Black was promoted to co-director alongside Sudjic in 2016, after she assisted to orchestrate the museum’s relocation to Kensington. Now sharing the role with Sudjic, the museum’s last chairman, Luqman Arnold, said at the time that she had been an “important deputy director” who had helped to “deliver the building project on time and on budget”. While the museum’s split was later than originally intended, the initial budget of £80 million was inhibited to.

2018: The museum faces controversy over a sponsor

Design Museum at 30: its most important moments from history
Design Museum’s Assumption to Nope exhibition, image courtesy of the Design Museum

While the museum has befit increasingly popular, one event last year saw the institution face disapproval and backlash. After it hosted a private event by defence and arms enterprise Leonardo in 2018, many of the exhibitors in the Hope to Nope exhibition incontestable to pull their work from the show in protest at the museum’s collaboration with the public limited company. The group of designers, artists and activists wrote a letter to the museum holding they were “appalled” that it was hosting the event, adding that it was “strongly hypocritical” to hold it at the same time as running a protest design expo, which celebrated the work of “radical, anti-corporate artists and activists”. The museum responded at the at all times by saying that it “[did not] endorse the private event”, adding that the Fashion Museum was a charity and relied on profits from sources including affair and venue hire. The museum ended up finishing the Hope to Nope run with much less function than it started with, so made it free as a result.

The Design Museum is holding its birthday with a special temporary display, which showcases 30 bizarre designers’ and illustrators’ interpretations of the number ’30’. For more information, perceptiveness here.

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