The new London Design Museum and its hyperbolic paraboloid roof

The new Design Museum of London has opened its doors some weeks ago, and now it is located in Kensington High Street, west London.

The entire project, made by Rem Koolhass’ OMA and John Pawson for the interior, consists of new luxury residences and the improvement of an existing building, which is now the new museum.

This new museum, should give a completely new face to itself, and this is what someone would think seeing its opening film. But is it really so?

Site area

Basically, the museum is now located at the entrance of Holland Park, with the garden on one side, and the new apartments on the other. This site is easy to reach thanks to the nearby high street, and thanks to the metro station as well, which is at 5 minutes on foot. So, to reach the building you have to cross a part of Kensington high street, and the initial part of the park, where the main gate is located.

The surroundings

As is said before, the project consists also of three apartments blocks, which seems these works as a filter for the nearby high street. This generate a new “context” made up only for the museum, in fact, when we stay in front of the entrance, we do not realize what’s over the park or the residences.

Anyway, these blocks generate also a connection between themselves, the museum and the surrounding buildings, which are older as architectural style.


From outside, it appears as a simple parallelepiped, with brick basement and blue glass cladding, all covered with a concrete hyperbolic paraboloid roof. The bricks have colour and aspect of the typical English brick, dark and porous, and the cladding is composed of blue translucent glasses and metal structure.

We can see two concrete structure from outside which supports the huge roof, but these are only a part of this, because inside there are two more larger pillars.

Before we said that the design of interior has been made by John Pawson, in fact, it appears completely different from the outside.

At this link you can see Pawson talking about the project and his approach.


Inside prevails wood. When we pass through the entrance doors, we reach a big internal space with nothing between you and the great roof. It appears as a box, inside a box. In fact, nothing reaches the roof. All internal parts are detached in order to give the possibility to enjoy the hyperbolic paraboloid.

At the end, the project is composed of two rings and a mezzanine, plus two underground floor. these two rings give the possibility to have a “triple height” space at its centre, where a big stair — linked with the mezzanine — gives the possibility to use it as an open auditorium.

Anyway, all the building obviously hosts lots of functions, as an open designer maker studio, offices, an auditorium, archives, private rooms, a learning centre and two exhibition halls. Oh…also a restaurant, a bar, a lounge for members and a shop, as always. So, in the entire building, there are two spaces designate for exhibitions.

All the project is focused to the great roof. It gives a huge boost to this space Thanks to its shape, the perception of the space results very pleasant. It generates wonderful gradients on itself, with points of shadow and points with a great suffused light.


It is a museum, of course, but just a museum? Why can’t be something else, something for everyone? Unfortunately, no, it isn’t more than a museum. Probably because of its location, it can’t be reached anytime, using its external spaces as a meeting point. First of all, it hasn’t any real “external public space”, because of its “high-ranking” location probably — luxury apartments —. Furthermore, it is divided from the park and surroundings by gates. This is a pity, because it could be useful to have a space — useful for the park too — always open. Maybe for some open events as well.


The new Design Museum of London is a fantastic architecture, we can not say the otherwise.

The internal space is very pleasing, simple in its “complexity” — geometrical too —. And I think, externally it is iconic. I mean, it could be the new design “icon” of London. For me there are some lost spaces, but this is a personal opinion, and this not affect the project. And of course, I think it could be great an external public space, but it could also be a commit choice.


Gabriele Bortoluzzi – photos taken with Olympus ® OM-D Mark II, 14-42 M. Zuiko digital

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