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New Design Museum Brings Contemporary Architecture and Design to South Kensington

The Royal College of Art extends a very warm welcome to its new neighbour the Design Museum, which opens to the public tomorrow. The move to South Kensington sees the museum triple in size and, in the process, become the world’s leading institution dedicated to contemporary design and architecture, complementing world-renowned collections in 'Albertopolis', including the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Founded in 1989 by Sir Terence Conran, the Design Museum was housed in a banana-ripening warehouse on Shad Thames in south-east London. Now situated on High Street Kensington in what was the Commonwealth Building – a Grade II* listed 1960s building with a remarkable hyperbolic paraboloid roof – the new Design Museum features two major temporary gallery spaces, a free permanent collection display, a library and archive, as well as studios and new learning facilities.

The RCA is proud of its long-standing relationship with the Design Museum, a global hub for contemporary design. This  is reflected in the large number of RCA students, staff and alumni who have been involved in its reopening. Dr Paul Thompson, Rector of the RCA, said: ‘The new Design Museum not only represents designs by notable RCA alumni but will be a valuable resource for our students. For me, this is a particularly welcome and important new addition to Kensington, having joined the Design Museum as a curator in 1988, and left as Director in 2000. The new Design Museum is stupendous!’

At its opening, the museum will unveil its new free permanent display, Designer Maker User. This permanent display brings together over 1,000 items to examine twentieth and twenty-first century design from three distinct but interconnected perspectives. Morag Myerscough (MA Graphic Art & Design, 1988), the designer behind the new permanent display, is an RCA alumna who comments that, although her work has evolved over time, it ‘all goes back to the work that I was doing at the Royal College’, where her final project was a set for the opera The Turn of the Screw.

Designer Maker User covers a broad range of disciplines, from engineering to fashion. Among the items on display are iconic road signs designed by Margaret Calvert (former Head of RCA Graphic Design) and Jock Kinneir; a traffic light by David Mellor (DesRCA Dip, Silversmithing & Jewellery); and an early drone designed by RCA alumni Andreas Raptopoulos and Ido Baruchin (MA Vehicle Design, 2011). As Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum, explains, this unconventional display seeks to investigate what objects and products mean, and demonstrate that ‘the story behind how they are made is as important as their final appearance.’ 

Alongside the permanent display, there will be two temporary exhibitions. Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World and Beazley Designs of the Year. The latter celebrates design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year. Nominees for the 2016 prize include architecture collective Assemble for Granby Workshop in Liverpool (which includes RCA Architecture alumni Anthony Engi Meacock, Giles Smith and Paloma Strelitz, as well as RCA Architecture PhD candidate Jane Hall), and Neville Brody (Dean of the School of Communication) along with 4Creative, for the new graphic identity of Channel 4.

A core part of the Design Museum’s activity is the Designer-in-Residence programme, which provides emerging designers from all disciplines with time and space away from their regular environment. Two of this year's four designers are RCA architecture alumni – Clementine Blakemore (MA Architecture, 2015) and Rain Wu (MA Architecture, 2013). As part of the residency, Blakemore has designed and built a pavilion for the grounds of the new Design Museum in response to the theme ‘Open’. The project explores the idea of the building site as a productive space for learning, and of construction as a social event. Assembled with a group of RCA students from a range of disciplines as part of a week-long ‘Co-Construction’ workshop for AcrossRCA, the pavilion can be interpreted as a framework for exchange, engagement and collaboration.      

During the Design Museum’s opening weekend (26–27 November 2016) students from the RCA’s Information Experience Design (IED) MA programme will stage two sound performances and a series of four interventions, Thinking through Sound. IED students join in the Weekend Open celebrations by creating performances and interventions inspired by the building and objects from the Adopt An Object project. This series of interventions explores how design objects mediate our lived experience, focusing on what happens when we turn attention towards our ears.

In January 2017 the Museum will open an exhibition looking at how design can help people lead fuller, healthier, more rewarding lives into old age. The exhibition is curated by Jeremy Myerson, the RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Centre Chair of Design.

For more information about the Design Museum, visit their website.