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Profile: Deyan Sudjic – staging a comeback

Deyan Sudjic is marking 10 years at the Design Museum as it relocates to an impressive new location in west London

by Kate Burnett

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Deyan_160As the new Design Museum finally opens its doors, Deyan Sudjic reveals little of the pressure he must be feeling. The run-up to 24 November 2016 was long but rewarding for Sudjic, whose decade as museum director has seen him oversee many changes.

The new Kensington location, on the site of the former Commonwealth Institute, will more than triple the space available for exhibitions (nearly 9,500m2 of internal space – see page 8 for more details of the facilities) and also create a series of areas to allow for an extended programme of events and activities.

Realising such a project demands a large budget – the target was £90m – and Sudjic and his team have had to devote a considerable amount of time and effort to ensuring the new museum could go ahead. Most of the money has come from private donors but it has also received £4.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £3m from Arts Council England. Fundraising is ongoing and this summer the ‘adopt an object’ campaign was launched, aiming to raise a further £200,000 in addition to the £1m raised by an auction at Phillips in April.

The new space will continue to feature a wide range of design, such as these items from the This is Design

The new space will continue to feature a wide range of design, such as these items from the This is Design

“I’ve had to rediscover a sense of patience while becoming museum director and understanding the timescale,” Sudjic admits. “Every aspect is extremely rewarding. It’s been great to work with curators both inside and outside to realise what they want to do.”

The public perception of design has evolved significantly since the museum first occupied the Boilerhouse space at London’s V&A museum in the 1980s. Given Sudjic’s brief to grow the museum, after he joined he began thinking almost immediately about how contemporary design should be defined and represented.

As a trained architect and journalist (he is a former editor of both Blueprint in the UK and Domus in Italy), Sudjic had the contacts and credentials to lead the museum into a new era. “I think the museum as a whole has matured, developed, deepened,” he explains.

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what collecting means in terms of a design museum. Opening the doors is just the beginning – basically we‘re building a new multi-stage theatre and we will succeed on the basis of our repertoire. We will work to create six temporary exhibitions a year. I appointed Justin McGuirk as chief curator eight months ago and he’s a very important part of that strategy.”

Terence Conran: The Way We Live Now exhibitions at the museum’s old site in Bermondsey

Terence Conran: The Way We Live Now exhibitions at the museum’s old site in Bermondsey

The museum is hoping to attract 650,000 visitors a year and is offering free admission to its collections for the first time. As well as curating engaging exhibitions to fill the new galleries, Sudjic’s remit includes providing resources for young people and professionals through its education and business programmes. The new site includes a library and archive along with a Centre for Learning, funded by the Austrian crystal manufacturer Swarovski. In addition to working with school children, the museum is continuing its Designers in Residence programme, now in its ninth year. It selects four designers starting out in their careers to support and mentor and will now have its own studio space in the museum.

The museum is keen to encourage entrepreneurial thinking in design but Sudjic is also conscious of the changes the UK may be facing as it prepares to leave the European Union. “What do we mean by British design?” he says. “I think there’s such a thing as design in Britain: one of the things that has made Britain creative and attractive is the way it appeals to talent from around the world. I think, at this particular moment, with the rather unfortunate result of the referendum, it’s important that we go on saying Britain is an open place providing a platform for the best from everywhere in the world. I think that’s what the new museum will be doing.”

At the new Design Museum…

The Design Museum now occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on London’s Kensington High Street

The Design Museum now occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on London’s Kensington High Street

The building has five floors and the lower-ground floor (a double-height space), ground floor and second floor hold galleries. The lower-ground floor exhibition space will host temporary shows focusing on furniture, architecture, fashion, product and graphic design. This level also contains the Bakala Auditorium, named after trustee and benefactor Zdenek Bakala.

The museum’s largest gallery (872m²) is on the ground floor. This space is for temporary exhibitions that inspire visitors to think afresh about design. Visitors first enter the ground-floor atrium, which offers views up to the striking hyperbolic paraboloid roof. There are no exhibition spaces on the first floor, which houses the Sackler Library and Archive and the Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning, including a design studio, workshop and meeting spaces.

The museum’s own working spaces are also on this level. The second floor will house the permanent Designer Maker User display of key objects from the museum’s collection of contemporary design and architecture. This top floor also contains a restaurant, studio, events and members rooms.

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