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What Is the Design Museum?

By B. Turner
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Design Museum of London is located along the banks of the River Thames in central London, England. It was opened to the public in 1989, and features exhibits dedicated to modern art and design. Typical exhibits focus on architecture, fashion, product design, and graphic arts. Due to the relatively small size of the Design Museum, exhibits tend to change frequently, though several semi-permanent displays have endured for extended periods. In the summer of 2011, the Design Museum received a large donation that will be used to create an expanded version of the museum in London's West end.

In 1989, a group of designers and artists joined forces to open the Design Museum of London. The team also collaborated on the design of the building itself, which features a 1930s modernist revival style. The museum was built on the site of a former factory, though the site was completely transformed as the Design Museum was constructed.

The Design Museum is one of just a few British museums that is not subsidized by the government. Instead, it is privately owned, and must rely on admission fees and donations to fund operations and maintenance. As of 2011, more than 200,000 guests visit the museum each year to take in the exhibits or participate in special programs and lectures.

The museum features just two floors and a mezzanine area. The main exhibit is situated on the ground floor, along with a cafe, shop, and administrative offices. Visitors will also find toilets designed by artist Marc Newson on this level, and these toilets are often seen as an attraction in and of themselves. The main exhibit changes frequently due to the limited floor space available at the Design Museum. The museum's collection includes more than 2,000 objects ranging from industrial products to prints to fabrics.

On the mezzanine and second floor, guests will find another small exhibit area as well as a space reserved for lectures and private events. The mezzanine area is designed to look like a swimming pool, with blue and aqua finishes. The museum also houses an Education Center that is used to provide arts education to school children.

Between the Design Museum and the bank of the River Thames, guests can view a sculpture known as the Head of Invention. Crafted by artist Eduardo Paolozzi in 1989, this sculpture lies along the Butler's Wharf area. It consists of a metal head lying on its side, divided into a series of sections. Visitors can view the Head of Invention as they stroll along the Thames without entering the museum.

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