This weekend the Commonwealth Institute will be open for the public to view one last time before construction work starts to turn the building on Kensington High Street into a new home for the Design Museum, due to open in 2014. Suzy Horada, the Design Archives' latest temporary team member, will be one of the volunteer tour guides.
The Commonwealth Institute opened in 1962. It was designed to mark a shift away from the imperial past, to reflect Britain’s changing relationship with its former colonies. The building was designed by Sir Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, and has been described by English Heritage as ‘the most important public building of architectural ambition raised in London between the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery complex.’ The building is constructed with gifts from commonwealth countries, including Zambian copper for the striking roof of the building, and Nigerian timber for the floors.
The gallery spaces of the building were designed by James Gardner. He attempted to give each country equal space in the individual exhibitions which were spread across three floors. Gardner’s archive is held here at the Design Archives, and his beautiful colour sketches of the gallery plans have been digitised. Five will be on display in the building during the open house weekend.
Image reference: GB-1837-DES-LJG-4-1-2-38 (1962).