Design Museum review – temple to design gets the space it deserves at last

By Oliver Wainwright

Kensington High Street, London
The museum can now show its permanent collection – but John Pawson's blonde wood conversion of an imperial relic could have been so much more exciting

The £20m apartments in Kensington's Holland Green must have a good view of the 25 tonnes of Rhodesian copper that roll across the vaulted rooftop of the former Commonwealth Institute. Featuring aluminium window mullions from Canada and exotic hardwood floors from Nigeria, this big concrete tent was a physical showcase of the spoils of empire when it opened at the foot of Holland Park in 1962, replete with a forest of flagpoles on Kensington High Street trumpeting Britain's network of resource-rich former colonies.

Times have changed, and the flagpole-studded forecourt has been replaced by a seven-storey block of luxury flats. It is one of three such cubes that now surround the 60s relic, providing the mechanism for funding the building's revival. This icon of post-war optimism has been reborn, after an £83m renovation, as the new home for the Design Museum.

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