London's new Design Museum: Where to go for a transformative experience

I am being followed by a 1200-kilogram giant. Mimus, the robot is gliding a giant arm across the terrazzo floor of the newly opened Design Museum in London and mimicking my every move.

Transformed by US designer Madeline Gannon to sense and respond to human presence – like a giant puppy wanting attention – the sentient robot is designed to foster a sense of empathy between humans and machines.

It's part of the opening exhibition called Fear and Love, which also includes a powerful and timely response to Brexit by architecture firm OMA.

They present a British living room with 28 pieces of furniture sourced from the member states of the EU to highlight how, through trade, the European Union has influenced British home life.

Behind the living room curtain is a picture of the bombing of Rotterdam, a reminder of what a disunified Europe looks like.

Eschewing nostalgia, the Design Museum directors are emphatic that their direction is design in the contemporary sense, in the here and now.

The other headlining opening exhibition, the Beazley Designs of the Year, explores the best 2016 design that promotes or delivers change. Included is the Ikea flat-pack refugee shelter, an unspillable open coffee cup used in space, sneakers made from recycled plastic found in the ocean and a cycling helmet with inbuilt brake lights and indicators.

The real showstopper, though, is the building itself. In an £83 million transformation, leading architectural designer John Pawson has converted the interior of the former Commonwealth Institute, a 1962 exhibition hall which served mostly as a half-day history excursion for bored school children, into an impressive building within a building. The eye can't help but be drawn up upon entering to gaze at the twists and curves of the hyperbolic paraboloid roof. It envelops the building like a giant stingray, while still allowing in shards of light.

The oak-lined atrium underneath is ringed by walkways joined by prominent staircases, the first flight doubling as a seating area. On the top level, a giant colourful billboard announces the permanent (and free) exhibition: Designer, Maker, User. The entrance of the exhibition acts as a gateway to appreciating design.

On display are objects that shape our lives. The museum asked the public to nominate their favourite pieces including obvious choices such as the London Tube map, denim jeans and an Eames chair, but also surprising gems like a slinky and the Nutella jar that becomes a glass.

Journey into the room and the main displays are of the evolution of technology, from a pencil to a computer, and from a gramophone to an iPhone. Also featured is a working 3D printer so visitors can become makers and innovators. Another feature is Designers in Residence, where the public can interact with four designers while they are creating.

There's also a rotating menu of chefs in residence on the top floor at Parabola restaurant overlooking Holland Park, and named after the roof above it. It's the perfect venue to reflect upon the exhibits, and the building itself at Britain's only museum dedicated entirely to contemporary design and architecture.

TRIP NOTES

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www.designmuseum.org

www.visitbritain.com

GETTING THERE

The museum is on the corner of Earl's Court Road and Kensington High Street at the entrance of Holland Park. The closest Tube Station is High Street Kensington.

British Airways fly daily from Sydney Airport via Singapore Changi International Airport to London Heathrow at T5 Terminal, see www.ba.com

STAYING THERE

Design lovers will like the nearby Berkeley Hotel, book into one of the Asian-inspired suites on the first floor, designed by architect John Heah. See the-berkeley.co.uk.

The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Britain and British Airways.

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