The Design Museum has moved from Butler’s Wharf to a spectacular new building in Kensington High Street.
It showcases some of the best examples of 20th and 21st-century design, from the iconic glass Coke bottle, to early home computers and sound systems, right up to modern-day drones and 3D printers.
This review describes the original museum at Butler’s Wharf. You can read about the new museum here.
The way that the Design Museum operates is through a series of temporary exhibitions. So I can’t guarantee that what you see will be the same as what I saw today. But maybe you’ll have better luck than me because what I saw was boring.
I hate using the word boring in a review because it’s such a lazy way of describing something, but on this occasion it’s a perfect fit – because it was boring!
The first floor was full of womens’ dresses. Not famous dresses, worn by famous people; but just some standard shop-bought dresses on a plastic mannequin. Some of them were rather outrageous, I suppose (huge feathers and neon stripes, etc) but most of them were just the same old stuff that you might find in M&S: a pair of dungarees, a high-heeled shoe, a lady’s business suit.
I think they realised that it was a bit poor and tried to pad it out with photographs. But instead of seeing Margaret Thatcher’s blue suit you just saw a photo of it, plus a photo of Jackie O’s sunglasses – you got photos instead of objects. And that was it.
The second floor was all about ‘wearable tech’. This one looked like an Apple Store. It had a long wooden table in it with some iPads and iPhones on top, hooked up to some sensors that could measure your blood pressure and heart rate. It just seemed like one big advert to me. One of the exhibits was for a Baby app, for example, which dished out child advice to new parents. But it just seemed like something you’d buy for 99p in the App Store. Another one was called iHealth, which allowed you to type your blood sugar levels into your phone. Well whoopie-doo!
The third floor is where they kept all of their best stuff (…if you can call a stackable chair and a bike light the best stuff). Okay, so I admit that a stackable chair is quite handy, but do you really want to visit a museum to see one? Or how about a brick? I suppose it fits the bill as a great piece of design… but it’s a brick. How about a plastic wastepaper basket? Or a potato peeler? Or twelve teapots? I kid you not, folks. That is what you can see when you visit the Design Museum: some teapots.
I thought the museum was going to be full of amazing inventions and groundbreaking designs. They could have had a succession of designs to show you how things have changed over the years… early telephones to modern mobile phones… early cabinet TVs to modern-day 3D ones… early gramophones and crystal radios to Sony Walkmans and iPods… but there’s none of that. [Note: there is now – read my new review.] It’s just a random collection of disparate objects.
The most amazing thing to me was how packed the place was – and it was! It was genuinely busy. As I was walking around I felt a bit like that kid in the crowd who was trying to draw everyone’s attention to the emperor’s new clothes. “It’s just a teapot you fool! It’s just a shoe!” That is what this place does: they take a teapot and shine a load of lights on it and voila! …an instant museum exhibit. All they’ve got to do is put up a plaque saying how wonderful it is and people will believe them, because they don’t want to admit to themselves that they’ve just wasted half-a-day of their holiday.
Take my advice: if you want to learn about the history of design then visit the V&A museum instead, or even the Science Museum.
> Read Craig’s latest review of the Design Museum “I’ll be honest: I didn’t much like the old Design Museum when they had it by Butler’s Wharf, but at least it had one good thing going for it: a great view of Tower Bridge. But now they’ve shifted it to South Kensington it hasn’t even got that. But I’m determined to keep an open mind today (an empty mind), so let’s see what the new one is like. First impression: the building is definitely better. It’s almost like a work of art in itself. (I don’t mean the outside – wait until… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the Victoria & Albert Museum “I’m sitting here waiting for the Victoria & Albert Museum to open, watching three hundred school kids getting loaded off a coach. They are drowning out the traffic, that is how loud they are. And soon they will be running round the museum like a bunch of nutters. I wish I’d bought my earmuffs with me now. Ah well. You live and learn. It’s certainly a very handsome looking building from the outside. It’s more like a cathedral than a museum. I think I’m starting to turn into Prince Charles. I’m starting to agree with a lot of the stuff he says – that‘s a bit worrying. I don‘t mean all that baloney about talking to the plants… I don‘t have… continued.”
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You can learn more about the history of art, fashion and design at the V&A Museum. You’ll find some more early inventions at the Science Museum. Whilst you’re in the vicinity of Kensington you might like to visit the Leighton House Museum and Linley Sambourne House at 18 Stafford Terrace, which are both a short walk away by Holland Park.
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