Is This London's Coolest Museum?

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Cool and Contemporary

Design Museum
Gareth Gardner/Design Museum

Opened on November 24, 2016, London's Design Museum is the world's leading center devoted to contemporary design of all forms. The stunning space occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on High Street Kensington and is a strong contender for the title of London's coolest museum. Previously located on the banks of the river Thames near Tower Bridge, the relocation project took around 10 years and cost a cool £83 million. 

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A Stunning Transformation

Design Museum Exterior
Gareth Gardner/Design Museum

The Commonwealth Institute was built in the 1960s and features a striking copper-covered roof. The Design Museum transformation started in 2006 and many of the original features have been preserved in keeping with its status as a Grade II listed building. The shell was transformed by Dutch architecture practice, OMA and the interiors are by architectural designer, John Pawson. The galleries are arranged around a minimal oak atrium with a central staircase that features bench seating where visitors are encouraged to rest and reflect. The landscaped area outside incorporates fountains and seating.

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A Theatrical Atrium and Exhibition Space

Design Museum Atrium
Gareth Gardner/Design Museum

The museum is triple the size of the former space in Shad Thames and features a theatrical atrium of oak and concrete with walkways that lead off to galleries, the restaurant, education spaces, and offices. The top floor is home to the museum's permanent collection: Designer Maker User, a celebration of contemporary design viewed through the eyes of the designer, manufacturer and end user. The exhibition features close to 1,000 items from the 20th and 21st century including early Apple products, an original Vespa, a Frank Gehry chair and Gucci shoes. There's also a crowdsourced wall of iconic designs voted for by the public including pieces of Lego, a London Underground sign and a pair of Stan Smith sneakers. The library is on the first floor as well as an archive of works by designer Robin Day and an education space sponsored by the Swarovski Foundation. An auditorium is located in the basement. 

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Beyond the Galleries

Design Museum Shop
Luke Hayes/Design Museum

The top-floor restaurant is a smart space that overlooks Holland Park on one side and the atrium on the other. The menus are designed by a series of big-name guest chefs and change regularly. Cocktails inspired by neighboring Holland Park's Kyoto Garden are served at the bar. There's a laid-back cafe on the ground floor serving coffees, juices, sweet and savory snacks. The shop is a great place to pick up glossy design books, iconic products, and gifts. 

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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A Family-Friendly Space

Design Museum Steps
Gareth Gardner/Design Museum

The museum has a family-friendly layout with plenty of wide open space to push a stroller around and efficient elevators connecting the exhibition areas. There's a program of regular events and activities geared towards children aged 5-11. Many of the organized events are free to attend but places need to be booked in advance. Activities include 'create and make' workshops and design courses led by specialist tutors. There are several self-led activities that are available through the ticket office too. 

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Know before you go

Design Museum Entrance
Luke Hayes/Design Museum

Where is it? Next to Holland Park in Kensington. The nearest tube station is Kensington High Street. Earl's Court, Holland Park and Kensington/Olympia are close by too. Several bus routes serve Kensington High Street. 

When is it open? The museum is open every day (excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. The last entry is at 5 p.m. The restaurant is open until 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

How much are tickets? The museum is free to enter. The permanent exhibition is free to view and there are a couple of free displays. Additional exhibitions are charged separately.

Are children welcome? Yes. The museum is family friendly with exhibitions designed for kids, plenty of space to walk around with a stroller and large bathrooms fitted with changing facilities. 

What's on? In addition to the permanent display, there are usually two main exhibitions. The museum also hosts a regular series of talks, Q&As, tours and events. 

What's nearby? Holland Park is just next door and it's about a 15-minute walk to Hyde Park. Kensington High Street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. Kensington Church Street is home to antiques stores and Notting Hill is around a 20-minute walk away. 

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