From the archive: Spring 1963
THE GREAT JAMBOREE
When John Pawson transformed the Commonwealth Institute into the recently opened Design Museum, it was, to a certain extent, a new building: wrapped in new brick and glass walls, with new timber interiors and a dramatic triple-height atrium. But there was no question that one feature of the existing building had to be preserved: the tent-like concrete roof.
This was certainly what caught CQ’s eye when it first visited the RMJM-designed building. The roof captured the “jamboree-like” spirit of the institute, which was designed to celebrate the Commonwealth. But more than this, it was an unprecedented feat of structural engineering by AJ and DJ Harris’ James Sutherland. Comprising a central hyperbolic paraboloid surrounded by four separate “warped” surfaces, the roof was resolved as two discrete solutions: while the central section is an in-situ concrete shell, the side panels proved “too steep in places for easy concreting”, so were realised as a system of thin prestressed concrete ribs covered with wood wool.
CQ deemed the solution “very satisfactory”, adding that “there is a symbolic purpose about it too – the great tent spread over, and unifying, the various exhibits of the Commonwealth” – just as it now envelopes the rich and diverse history of design
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