What's happening to the Old Design Museum?
In 1981 Sir Terrance Conran won the bid to redevelop the 11-acre site of Butlers Wharf and one building was ear-marked as the New Design Museum. A former banana ripening warehouse in the 1940s, the conversion of the warehouse changed it beyond recognition. It was designed to pay homage to the International Modernist style of the 1930s, a sort of ‘Bauhaus-on-Thames’; it has classic features of this architectural style, notably it’s white walls, marble floors, large balconies and glass & brick walls that let in the maximum amount of light. Conran wanted the building to be a statement of forward-looking progression, a stark contrast sitting between the Victorian warehouses that define this stretch of the Thames.
Established by Sir Terrance Conran to promote awareness of design in education, industry, commerce, and culture, it was funded by a collection of designers themselves as well as benefactors, but principally designed by the Conran Group.
2008 began the search for a larger premises for the Design Museum and they ended up selecting a former Commonwealth Institute, in a 1960s building in High Street Kensington. In 2015, the architect, Zaha Hadid bought the old Design Museum on Butlers Wharf for a staggering £10,000,000 as an archive of her studio’s architecture. By 2016 Conran donated £17.5 million (including £10 million from the deal selling the old Design Museum) to enable the museum to move to their larger location in West London.
However, due to Hadid’s sudden death in 2016, her archive has never come to fruition. On her death her £67,000,000 estate was divided between four people including her niece and her business partner, Patrick Schumacher. Schumacher initiated a lawsuit by petitioning to be named the sole executor. The long running feud was finally settled in 2020 in a court hearing involving contested allegations of financial mismanagement. In a recent hearing conducted over zoom, the court was informed that after years of negotiations, the four executors of Hadid’s estate agreed that most of the assets will go to the Zaha Hadid Foundation which has plans to establish a museum and award, Arab women in particular, architectural scholarships. Having had the legal battle settled there are hopes that the archive dedicated to Hadid’s studio’s architecture can finally be erected and become an established feature of the Butlers Wharf Waterfront.