The Design Museum is a charity trust and family attraction housed at Shad Thames, not far from London’s Tower Hill. It boasts a dazzling white-wash frontage in a 1940s Banana warehouse, restructured as a delightful modernist ’gastrodome’ in the International Modernist style of the 1930s, with its revamp supervised by Terence Conran. With startling views of the river and the Tower Of London to the City and Canary Wharf, the Design Museum was established as a family attraction in 1989 and is the country’s largest supplier of design education resources. Indeed, the Design Museum is a conduit between the design world and popular society, in addition to offering a family day out with both informative and inspiring aspects, by virtue of its regularly-changing exhibits, staged some of the world’s top designers and architects. Further, the Design Museum fosters new design talent and stages international mobile exhibitions. The big draw for the ticket holder at the Design Museum is its own design and its multifaceted and stimulating content.
The Design Museum boasts three zones that can be experienced on a family day that can’t be disrupted by the weather and is open all year round, except 25-26 December. The three Design Museum halls are the main Design Museum Space, the plush Riverside Hall, and the trendy Contemporary Design Gallery, all of which can be booked for special occasions and corporate functions. The emphasis, though, is on serving up a memorable family day out, with intriguing and enlightening exhibits about all manner of industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design.
The first specific museum of modern design in the world, the Design Museum was rated by The Times in 2007 as second in its museums of the year. The family attraction’s two floors of displays and the Design Museum Tank area on the south bank of the Thames draw in 200,000 visitors per annum.
The Ground Floor of the Design Museum has a foyer Admissions desk, Design Museum Shop and Design Museum Café – all open to ticket holders – and the toilets designed by Australia’s Marc Newson, and are a big pull in themselves for many visitors. Not something you can say about just any family day out!
The First Floor hosts displays that are replaced every few months (detailed at the Design Museum website) and among previous exhibits are a retrospective on Peter Saville’s Graphic Design, Manolo Blahnik’s Shoe Design and the History Of Video Games. At the start of 2008, the main exhibition was Maison Tropicale, dealing with the craft of French designer/engineer Jean Prouvé (1901-84), providing the first full-blown perspective on his output in Britain. It features pieces of furniture design, architecture, drawings, film and photos, and outlines his impact on 20th Century design.
The First Floor of the Design Museum also has the Blue Print Café, one of Terence Conran’s restaurants, with jaw-dropping vistas of the River Thames and Tower Bridge, not to mention sumptuous fare, providing a very satisfying course in a full family day.
The Design Museum Space on the mezzanine floor sits between the First and Second Floors and is not normally open to ticket holders. It’s utilised mostly for Design Museum lectures about design and designers, or is available for special occasions like weddings and business conferences. Kitted out with a light blue colour scheme, the Space is “the swimming pool” at the heart of this leisure centre, and hosts talks such as one in February 2008 about high-spec lighting and technology’s impact on design.
The Design Museum Second Floor is usually arranged as two sub-sections, the bigger near the riverside windows, the smaller a walled-off rear section. There is a semi-permanent exhibit about past design, themed along certain decades. The rear space features a private Education Centre, where the Design Museum Education Department teachs school groups and stages workshops. The Design Museum additionally inaugurated the country’s premier design award, the “Designer of the Year”, in 2003, offering a £25,000 prize.
Among the Design Museum workshops on offer in spring 2008 was Mad Hatters, looking at modern millinery design and manufacture, with an array of ribbons, sequins, feathers and beads for participants to craft their own head ware.
With level access or lifts throughout the Design Museum, as well as wheelchair-accessible toilets, a wheelchair available from Admissions, and two disabled parking bays, the family attraction can be enjoyed by everyone. Special educational needs workshops and visits can be booked too, ensuring an illuminating and enjoyable day out.
The Design Museum’s taster courses for 12-16 year olds include Get Into Graphic Design, as well as regular Sunday workshops, while each child visiting the family attraction gets a free Design Action Pack. It’s a novel family attraction that could inspire a new hobby, or even a lifelong passion for design! Just the ticket.
Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YD
Tel: 020 7403 6933
Times: See attraction for specific details.