The Shape of Things to Come | Design Museum

As the Design Museum gets ready for a relocation that will make it bigger and better, Katie Treggiden talks Zaha Hadid, 2015 and typewriters with museum director and author Deyan Sudjic ahead of his DM25 anniversary event at Clerkenwell Design Week…

Image: a CGI image of the second floor of the new Design Museum showing the swooping roof.  ITS ambition is to be the best design museum in the world – and next year visitors will give their verdict on the ambitious plan to transform an iconic, disused building into a Design Museum for the 21st century.


Image:CGI image of the exterior of the new Design Museum, set to open in Kensington in late 2015.

As well as celebrating the Design Museum’s 25th anniversary, Clerkenwell Design Week will be buzzing with talk about the big move. In late 2015, the Shad Thames museum will relocate to the former Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park, following an £80 million redevelopment by Kings Cross-based architect John Pawson. Clerkenwell’s Zaha Hadid will move into the current building.

Clerkenwell Design Week is staging a Design Museum 25 event as part of the festival’s Conversations at Clerkenwell series. Museum director Deyan Sudjic will be discussing the next 25 years of design with former Vitra chairman Rolf Fehlbaum and Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola.

The Design Museum was founded on 5 July 1989 by Sir Terence Conran, who recently declared that the new site will house the best design museum in the world. “Terence Conran has been hugely important to the museum and to Britain,” Sudjic tells The Post.

‘Design is much too interesting and important to leave to the specialists’

Of course, the culture of design has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. “What’s really interesting about design to me is that it doesn’t stand still – it’s always changing its shape and its definition,” says Sudjic. “Design is a way of thinking, of understanding how you get the most out of production, of understanding people’s needs, of understanding how things are made, of understanding the meaning of objects. Sometimes design is about asking questions as much as it is about answering them.”


You don’t have to choose – one ticket gets you into both of these Design Museum exhibitions…

Hello, My Name is Paul Smith
This hit exhibition shares the designer’s inspirations and charts the rise of this quintessentially British fashion label. “Paul Smith has always been an inspiration,” says Deyan Sudjic. “I remember first coming across him in the Eighties when he called me one day and said, ‘I’ve just come back from Tokyo, it’s amazing, you must come and look’ and so the next week we were off. We spent 10 days in Japan and he just showed me an extraordinary range of great things and taught me the importance of communicating. The show we’ve got on about him at the moment provides a great insight into the way a creative mind works.” (Runs to 22 June)


Designs of the Year 2014
The seventh Designs of the Year showcases the best in product, architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphic, and transport design from around the world. It’s an exhibition of design for the future featuring a Lego calendar, a mobile phone you can build yourself and Kate Moss’s favourite app. It also includes work from Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield alongside crowd-funded start-ups. (Runs to 25 August),
£12.40 entry for adults,
£6.20 children


Image: Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic.

The evolution from craft to mass production to 3D printing is something Sudjic explores in his new book, B is for Bauhaus: An A-Z of the Modern World (Particular Books). “Craftsmanship moves around,” he adds. “Maybe it’s not about making a wooden chair anymore, but the people who make the carbon fibre for an F1 car are craftsmen.”


Image: the Olivetti Valentine typewriter from the permanent collection.


image: CGI image of the second floor of the new Design Museum showing the swooping roof.

And changing design requires a 21st century Design Museum. “To show work in a case comes from an older conception of museums where the point was to collect things and store them away,” says Sudjic. “Especially with design, the point is to bring things to life, to tell stories.”

‘Colour is what turned it from office equipment into something that had emotional resonance’

Sudjic’s favourite item of ‘storytelling’ in the collection is the Olivetti Valentine typewriter, designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1969. “Sottsass described it as a portable machine that poets could take into the countryside to keep them company on lonely weekends, which suggests that design is about storytelling as much as it is about making form,” he says. Although he concedes it is “dead technology”, Sudjic is clearly enamoured of this typewriter: “It comes in three different colours – ours is bright red with orange typewriter spools, which I was shocked to discover were intended to suggest a hint of nipple, embarrassingly!

“It’s a fantastic object in that the colour is what turned it from a piece of office equipment into something that had emotional resonance, which is very much the idea that Jonathan Ive took when he started making the coloured iMacs for Apple. I’ve just finished writing Sottsass’ biography, so it’s also interesting and important to me because of that.”

Authoring several books and running a museum haven’t distracted Sudjic from the challenge he was given following his 2006 appointment: to secure the future of the museum with a new building. The swooping copper roof of the Commonwealth Institute will become the focal point of the vast interior, and it will have three times the exhibition space and aim to double annual visitors to 500,000.

“I’m rather allergic to the idea of self-consciously created architectural icons,” says Sudjic. “This is a chance to have a building that is already distinctive and all we’ve got to do is work with John Pawson to bring it back to life.”

Zaha Hadid will take over the existing Design Museum building. “It’s lovely that the Shad Thames building is going to a good home,” says Sudjic. “She’s got an extensive archive of her paintings, drawings and models and she’s talked in the past about having somewhere to show those and the work of other people she finds interesting.”

Part of the plan for the new Design Museum is to draw on the collection to create a free exhibition space on the top floor for a non-specialist audience. “My whole career has been based on the fact that design is much too interesting and important to leave to the specialists,” says Sudjic. “For me design is a way to understand the world around us.”

And as the Design Museum celebrates its 25th birthday, Sudjic believes it’s essential that it remains an organisation that can “maintain its sense of being light on its feet as it grows, so it stays young as it matures”.

Perhaps one day Sudjic will write a book about how it really did become the best design museum in the world.

The DM25 event takes place in the Farmiloe Building at 7pm on 21 May:

Katie Treggiden is a design writer and the official blog partner for Clerkenwell Design Week:


Best buys at the Design Museum shop with a Clerkenwell connection – and one by their new architect…


Farringdon Station Architectural Sculpture designed by Chisel & Mouse, £135. Chisel & Mouse has captured Charles W Clark’s sleek design for Farringdon Station in miniature.

Niche Centrepiece designed by Zaha Hadid for Alessi, 2009, £100. Hailed as a design classic, five black melamine dishes can be arranged in multiple configurations to create a striking centrepiece (special order by phone).


Eames House Bird for Vitra, 1910, £125. Charles and Ray Eames filled their home with objects from their travels. This wooden bird is based on one of their prized pieces of American folk art.

Swarovski Hailstone Paperweight designed by Design Museum architect John Pawson, 2012, £125. Hailstones the size of cobbles rained down on London on 16 March, 1667. Swarovski created this paperweight based on sketches by Sir Christopher Wren.


Corniches designed by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra 2012, £45-70. Corniches are informal shelves providing small spaces to store things spontaneously. Tel: 0207 940 8773