The Design Museum is a museum in Kensington, London, which covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. The museum operates as a registered charity, and all funds generated by ticket sales aid the museum in curating new exhibitions. Entrance is free to the museum's permanent collection display, "Designer Maker User".
The museum was originally housed in a former 1940s banana warehouse on the south bank of the River Thames in the Shad Thames area in SE1 London. The conversion of this warehouse by the museum's founder Sir Terence Conran altered it beyond recognition, to resemble a building in the International Modernist style of the 1930s. This was funded by many companies, designers and benefactors. The museum was principally designed by the Conran group, with exhibitions over two floors, and a “Design Museum Tank” exhibition space out by the waterfront. A large scale sculpture titled Head of Invention by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi was installed in the area between the museum and the Thames.
In June 2011, Sir Terence Conran donated £17.5 million to enable the Museum to move in 2016 from the warehouse to a larger site which formerly housed the Commonwealth Institute in west London. This landmark from the 1960s, a Grade II* listed building that had stood vacant for over a decade, was developed 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 spatial qualities.
The Design Museum opened in its Kensington location on 24 November 2016. The move gave the museum three times more space than in its previous location at Shad Thames, with the new Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning, 202-seat Bakala Auditorium and a dedicated gallery to display its permanent collection, accessible free of charge.
The top-floor space under the spectacular museum roof houses a permanent display, Designer Maker User, with key objects from the museum’s collection. It is the only one in the UK devoted exclusively to contemporary design and architecture. A restaurant, members’ lounge, residency studio and an events and gallery space are also located on the top floor.
On the first floor, a design and architecture reference library is a resource for students, educators, researchers and designers. It will also include archive material relating to the history of the museum. The Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning is a suite of learning facilities including a Design Studio, Creative Workshop, two seminar rooms and a Common Room. The Design Museum offices and main reception, a meeting room and a film studio are also located on the first floor.
On the ground floor, the largest gallery in the new Design Museum showcases a programme of temporary exhibitions. Accessible from both Kensington High Street and Holland Park, the atrium welcomes visitors and acts as an events space. A main staircase from the atrium gives access to all floors and offers views to the first and second floors and the hyperbolic paraboloid roof.
A double-height space spanning the two lower levels, Gallery Two hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions dedicated to architecture, fashion, furniture, product and graphic design. The Bakala Auditorium seats 194 (it says 202 at the top. Which is it?) people and provide a purpose-designed space for a programme of talks, seminars, debates and public and private events throughout the year. The basement accommodates a collections store, exhibition preparation spaces and a locker area for visitors.
The Design Museum ran the £25,000 Designer of the Year award from 2003 to 2006; in its first three years it was televised on BBC Two. In 2007 the new Director discontinued the Designer of the Year scheme, and in 2008 introduced the Designs of the Year award. Brit Insurance sponsored the awards from 2003 until 2011.
Designs produced over the previous twelve months worldwide are eligible. A number of internationally respected design experts are invited to nominate up to five projects each, falling into the seven categories of Architecture, Transport, Graphics, Interactive, Product, Furniture and Fashion. Since 2015 there have been six categories: architecture, fashion, graphics, digital, product and transport. Beazley Insurance came on board as exhibition sponsor in 2016.
The Designers in Residence programme at the Design Museum is a core part of the museum's activity, and exists to provide emerging designers, across any discipline, with time and space away from their regular environment to reflect, research and consider new ways of developing their practice.
Design Ventura challenges students in years 9, 10 and 11 to design a new product for the Design Museum shop.
Design Ventura, the Design Museum's flagship learning project, provides students with the opportunity to develop design thinking, creative and business capabilities and employability skills. The project has been run since 2010 in partnership with Deutsche Bank as part of the bank's youth engagement programme, Born to Be, and has seen over 36,000 students in 588 schools participate.
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