Having closed its doors in 2004, and playing host to squatters in recent months, there’s finally some good news to report about the Commonwealth Institute in west London. The disused building is to be the welcome recipient of £20 million development plan, with hopes to turn it into an art gallery (yay!), museum (double-yay!) or “centre for a corporate foundation” (erm, possibly yay – we’re not sure what that means).
This should hopefully mean that the building itself is secure, following a tug of war since it closed its doors to the public in 2004 between conservationists and developers who wished to strip if of its grade II listed status and demolish it.
Built in the early Sixties, as former colonies in Africa and Asia were gaining independence, the Institute was the high point of Commonwealth heritage dialogue amongst Britain’s former territories. But as the decades passed, and the colonial legacy came to mean less and less, the building fell out of favour with the public. Still, we are delighted that the unique structure – regularly described as “tentlike”, though we think prefer the appellation “society lady’s dress in an updraft” – will be preserved. It was reputedly an inspiration for Sydney Opera House, and we’re also certain that Olafur Elliason took inspiration from it for his Serpentine Pavilion this year.
Given its prime location in the salubrious environs of Holland Park, with High Street Kensington right on its door and the big museums nearby, we can easily imagine the Institute thriving in its new guise.
Image from Mark Jefferson’s Flickrstream