Commonwealth Institute

Interior, Commonwealth Institute / RMJM, 1962

This week I was fortunate to be granted a trip inside the former Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street. Designed by RMJM and opened in 1962, it is ranked by English Heritage as the second most important Modern building in England, following the Royal Festival Hall. But, sadly, it has been left abandoned since 2002 when the Institute moved to New Zealand House in the West End.

It is a truly phenomenal building. Once inside, beneath the distinctive parabolic roof, the extraordinary, cavernous space seems to warp around you, with an enormous arched concrete roof spanning overhead, and linked walkways snaking around the perimeter. All services to the building have long been disconnected, so once inside there’s a distinctly eerie damp silence and darkness.

It’s such a shame to see a building like this left to rot. The grass out front is wild and overgrown, the lake long since emptied, and graffiti tags dot the covered walkway to the entrance. Fortunately, appeals to remove its listed status and have it demolished have been scrapped, and new new plans are afoot for John Pawson to transform the space into a new home for the Design Museum. It’ll be a hell of a task, but one that must be attempted, to bring this astonishing architecture back to life.

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