Commonwealth Institute Could House Design Museum

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 113 months ago
Commonwealth Institute Could House Design Museum

In a languorous reminiscence, the Evening Standard's architecture critic runs through his childhood memories of the Commonwealth Institute and considers its future plans for development. Nothing new there – as we reported one year ago, the aging, long-closed structure is due for a makeover at the hands of Rem Koolhaas' OMA. Among the verbiage, though, are some mock-ups of the development plans, alongside the suggestion that the Design Museum is considering the Institute as its new home. We're fans of the DM, yet its current Shad Thames location, while an excellent space, is ill-served by public transport. A move Kensington way could give it a whole new line of visitors while letting it play the young upstart to the more staid institutions down on Exhibition Road.

Last Updated 18 December 2008


I haven't been to the Design Museum recently, but found it to be a pretty big letdown in comparison to some of London's other museums and galleries.

What I disliked the most was that it was three stories (two of actual exhibit space, the ground floor being a cafe and gift shop) that you had to pay to enter, and would probably spend a grand total of 45 minutes in, which compares poorly to the Tate, Tate Modern and the Science, Imperial War and Natural History Museums, and they have free entry!

The only things that made up for it were the classic cars and videogames on display, but I would definitely not recommend the Design Museum as it was the time I visited it.


I think the Design Museum is worth it for a good exhibition. Last year's Zaha Hadid show, for example, or the Richard Rogers retrospective earlier in 2008, were easily worth the entry fee. Others, not so much.

Remember, also, that the DM doesn't have a permanent display. Special shows at the Tate, Natural History Museum, V&A etc. are paid entry. Perhaps a move westwards would allow it the extra space to exhibit part of their permanent collection while reserving paid entry for specially curated shows.


How exactly is its current location "ill-served by public transport"? Bermondsey tube is a ten minute walk away, Tower Hill is a 15 minute jaunt across Tower Bridge, and even London Bridge is a mere 20, not to mention all the buses that run over Tower Bridge or along Jamaica Road...

The real stumbling block to visiting the Design Museum is the eye-watering ticket prices!


Bermondsey´s a 15 minute walk minimum. A "mere" 20 minute walk to London Bridge or Tower Hill? That's a fair distance in mid-winter. There are about 2 buses that run over Tower Bridge, neither of which is particularly useful. I have nothing against the area, but for a museum, Kensington is a preferable location to Shad Thames.

"Eye-watering ticket prices"? Get a grip, it's barely the cost of a mediocre breakfast in one of the locale's chi-chi bistros. Most folk forget that London is very lucky indeed to have institutions like the British Museum, National Gallery, V&A, Tate etc. open for free. We should actually offer thanks to these institutions, instead of castigating those places that are forced to charge an entry fee to keep afloat. Too many people - mostly those who've moved to the capital since 2000 and the removal of ticket prices for the permanent collections - are quite ungrateful and seemingly ignorant of the fortune we enjoy. Speak to American tourists, they're stunned that they can wander around Tate Modern's collection for free when they'd have to fork out for entry into MoMA.


Dean, I have no issue about having paid exhibition space as I still have the option to view the non-paid-entry content, but I do dislike the idea of having to pay to enter without knowing the exact standard of the content.

As I recall, the special exhibition at the DM at the time I was there was a bunch of dresses. Real exciting stuff.

And I'm not ungrateful because I'm some person with the mad idea about moving to London. :P

Now the CGI convention they used to hold in Islington, that was a exhibit I had to pay to enter but was so worth the ticket price. :)


"I do dislike the idea of having to pay to enter without knowing the exact standard of the content."

The same could be said of the going to the cinema. Surely that's where reviews & previews (such as can be found here on your humble Londonist blog) come in handy? Sure, it's a gamble, and if it's something terrible then you feel ripped off. But if it's a great show, then it's worth the money.


I'm a fan of the Design Museum, although I think the programming can be hit or miss. The Alan Fletcher exhibition last year was awesome, but the current Design Cities show is a bit poor, just a lot of well known design artefacts strung together with a city theme.

But my real question is this: what happened to the plans to turn the unused half of Tate Modern into the Design Museum? Has that been abandoned?


news to me - unused half? b...but they're building a whole new wing.


There's a large off-limits space in the Tate, behind the ticket office. You can get a glimpse through the concertina doors up on that platform in the turbine hall. I thought that was the place they were considering for the Design Museum, but I was wrong, in fact it was on an adjacent plot. I found this here article (, which answered my question.