Design Museum on the move with £7.5 million Sir Terence Conran gift

By Culture24 Staff | 29 June 2011
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A photo of the outside of a square white building with one multicoloured wall
The Design Museum is on the move
© Aurelien Guichard
In a troubled week for Habitat, the man who founded the store empire has heralded a far brighter future for another design institution.

Forty-seven years after opening the much-loved chain’s first shop in Chelsea, Sir Terence Conran has given a cash gift of £7.5 million to the Design Museum, as well as the £10 million lease of the venue’s current Thames-side headquarters.

The announcement will allow the centre to embark on a move to a new home at the former premises of the Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street, tripling the size of its exhibition space in a £77 million project.

“Moving to the Commonwealth Institute will allow all our dreams and ambitions for the Design Museum to come true,” said Conran, who established the forerunner of the museum, the Boilerhouse, in the basement of the Victoria and Albert museum in 1982.

“It will create a world-class space with the size and scope for the serious promotion and celebration of design and architecture in this country.”

Conran left his position as head of Habitat’s owners during the 1990s, and has enjoyed huge success as a designer, restaurateur, retailer and writer. The Conran Foundation’s support for the different guises of the museum has now totaled £50 million.

“The gift to the Design Museum is a hugely generous investment in the future,” declared Director Deyan Sudjic, who said Conran had “transformed Britain.”

“His contribution to the way we live, eat, and shop over six decades has been enormous. The new Design Museum will be the definitive voice of contemporary design, reinforcing Britain's place as one of the world’s leading creative economies.”

At a time when parliamentary leaders are seizing every opportunity to foster philanthropy, Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt welcomed Conran to 10 Downing Street to applaud and support his vision for the museum.

The Institute building has been largely unoccupied for ten years, and its popular new inhabitants are expected to revitalize the surrounding area in West London.

“Sir Terence Conran has already made a remarkable contribution to the history of design,” said Hunt, praising the benefactor’s “extraordinary influence on the way we live”.

“Sir Terence’s exceptionally generous gift to the Design Museum will not only help this excellent cultural institution move to a new home, but will also help showcase Britain’s ability to produce some of the world’s greatest designers and influence design on a global scale.”

The scheme to modify the Grade II-listed Insitute site will be aided by Lord Cunliffe, a leader of the original architectural team in 1958, and James Sutherland, the building’s original structural engineer, in a plan expected to be completed by 2014. The designs for it should make for sumptuous viewing.

  • Sir Terence Conran, The Way we Live Now, a retrospective of Sir Terence Conran’s career, is at the Design Museum from November 16 2011 – March 4 2012.

  • Last Chance to See: Wim Crouwel: A Graphic Odyssey runs at the museum until Sunday (July 3 2011). Read our review.
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