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Clerkenwell Post, May 2014

This article was written 6 years ago.

In May I interviewed Deyan Sudjic OBE, Director of London’s Design Museum for the Clerkenwell Post’s Clerkenwell Design Week issue. (All copy is as submitted.)
Clerkenwell Post Deyan Sudjic

All change as the Design Museum turns 25.

Change is in the air. In its 25th year, the Design Museum is preparing for a big move, set to be the talk of Clerkenwell Design Week. In late 2015 the Shad Thames museum will move to the former Commonwealth Institute in London’s Holland Park, following a restoration by Clerkenwell-based architect John Pawson. Another Clerkenwell resident, Zaha Hadid Architects, will take over the current building.

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In celebration, Clerkenwell Design Week is hosting Design Museum Director Deyan Sudjic in conversation with Rolf Feuhlbaum. At the event on Wednesday 21st May at the Design Factory, they will explore what the next 25 years might hold for design.

The Design Museum was founded on 5th July 1989 by Sir Terence Conran. “Terence Conran has been hugely important to the museum and to Britain,” says Sudjic. The Museum started life in 1982 as ‘the Boilerhouse Project’ an exhibition space in the basement of the V&A dedicated to industrial design. The Conran Foundation and inaugural Director Stephen Bayley put design on the cultural landscape in Britain. Fast forward seven years and it was Conran’s support that enabled that project to turn into the Design Museum at Shad Thames that we know today.

Design has changed since 1989. “25 years ago it would have been plausible to do a collection based on furniture, but there’s so much more to design than that,” says Sudjic. “What’s really interesting about design to me is that it doesn’t stand still – it’s always changing its shape and its definition. 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… all of those things. Sometimes design is about asking questions as much as it is about answering them.”
The changing nature of design from craft to mass production to 3D printing is something Sudjic explores in his new book, B is for Bauhaus. “On the one hand the world is becoming more and more virtual; on the other hand the idea of making is really important to some people. We dispose of our smart phones every nine months at one end of the spectrum, and yet last year was the first year for a long time that sales of vinyl records went up, so there’s a strange duality”, he says. “There’s a sense that making gives you time to think and explore something. Craftsmanship moves around. Maybe it’s not about making a wooden chair anymore, but the people who make the carbon fibre for an F1 car are craftsmen.”

Changing design requires a changing Museum, something Sudjic embraces: “To show work in a case comes from an older conception of museums where the point was to collect things and store them away,” he says. “Especially with design, the point is to bring things to life, to tell stories.
Sudjic’s favourite item in the permanent collection is the Olivetti Valentine typewriter was designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1969. Sudjic says, “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 about making form. I’ve just finished writing Sottsass’ biography, so it’s also interesting and important to me because of that.”
The day to day running of the museum and authoring several books haven’t distracted Sudjic from the key challenge he was given when he was appointed as Director – to secure the future of the museum with a new building.

Sudjic says, “We’ve managed to get the museum’s future sorted with the move to Holland Park and we’ve got the chance to bring a listed building back to life. When I was at school in London, the Commonwealth Institute was the most modern, optimistic, hopeful place in London, so to see it fall into disrepair was sad. I’m rather allergic to the idea of self consciously created architectural icons. 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.”

Pawson’s approach is to solve the fundamental problems of light, space, proportion and materials in each individual project, with the aim of bringing about “simplicity in architecture and design.”

“What was interesting about Pawson was his sensitivity to existing buildings, but also that he hadn’t done a major public building in London before,” says Sudjic. “That combination seemed interesting: someone who’s really good, who’s at a stage in their career where they want to do something really hard. He and his team have been fully engaged with every part of the museum and they’ve worked amazingly hard to produce a great scheme.

Zaha Hadid will take over the existing Design Museum building at Shad Thames, using the opportunity to consolidate her archive in one place and to exhibit art, architecture and design. “It’s lovely that the Shad Thames building is going to a good home,” says Sudjic. “I’m very interested in what Zaha Hadid’s plans are and she’s still working on them. 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 a space with free admission: “On the top floor of the new building, we’ll put an installation drawn from our collection exploring ideas about design, introducing it to a non-specialist audience, which is very important to me,” says Sudjic. “My whole career has been based on the fact that design is much too interesting and important to leave to the specialists. For me design is a way to understand the world around us.”

As well as exhibitions, the Design Museum runs an education programme that runs from a Masters Degree in Curating Contemporary Design with Kingston University to product design competitions with schools.

“My biggest hope for the Design Museum moving forward is that is can maintain its sense of being light on its feet as it grows, so it stays young as it matures. Institutions can get clogged up. I don’t want to get too much bigger – we do need to apply more depth to what we do: we need to spend more time doing things; we need to be careful and responsible. That’s all very important, but to be light on our feet means having the ability to challenge what you think is the right way of doing things all the time.”

In partnership with Clerkenwell Design Week and in celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Design Museum presents ‘DM25 In Conversation: Deyan Sudic and Rolf Feuhlbaum’ on Wednesday 21st May – 7pm-8pm at The Design Factory. The seminar will explore developing trends and the direction design might take over the next 25 years. See www.dm25.org for more info.

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Exhibitions:

Celebrating his career to date, Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith shares Paul Smith’s inspirations and charts the rise of this quintessentially British fashion label, which started life in a tiny shop on a Nottingham back street and became one of the leading fashion brands worldwide. “Paul Smith has always been an inspiration,” says Sudjic. “I remember first coming across him in the 80s 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.” Hello, My Name is Paul Smith is at the Design Museum until 22nd June 2014.

The seventh Designs of the Year exhibition showcases the best in architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphic, product and transport design from around the world. Featuring a Lego calendar, a typeface that helps you learn to write and Kate Moss’s favourite app, the exhibition includes work from established names like Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield, alongside crowd-funding start-ups and graduate projects. Designs of The Year is at the Design Museum until 25th August 2014.

Admission to the museum is £12.40 adult, £9.30 student, £6.20 children 6 – 14 and free for under 6s.

Design Museum Shop Clerkenwell Picks:

1. Farringdon Station Architectural Sculpture designed by Chisel and Mouse, £135.00. Chisel and Mouse has perfectly captured Charles W. Clark’s sleek design for Farringdon Station in miniature. Clark was central to the design of much of London Underground’s architecture.

2. Eames House Bird for Vitra, 1910, £125.00. Charles and Ray Eames filled their home with objects brought back from their travels. The wooden bird was one of their most prized objects of American folk art. It stood in the centre of their living room for over fifty years and was used to style many a product shot.

3. Niche Centrepiece designed by Zaha Hadid for Alessi 2009, £115.00. Hailed as a design classic of the future, five separate black melamine dishes can be arranged in multiple configurations to create a striking centrepiece.

4. Swarovski Hailstone Paperweight designed by John Pawson, 2012, £125.00. When hailstones the size of cobbles rained down on London on March 16 1667, Sir Christopher Wren sketched their regular shape and exquisite faceting. Based on Wren’s sketches, Swarovski created this set of paperweights to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the completion of Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

5. Corniches designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra 2012, £70.00. Corniches are informal shelves providing small spaces to store things spontaneously. “The same way that we hang our belongings on a rock jutting from a cliff before diving into the sea, we need small, informal storage in everyday life too,” explains Ronan Bouroullec.

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