Commonwealth Institute

224 High Street Kensington,
London, W8 6NQ

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Commonwealth Institute

Located in the west London inner-city district of Kensington. The Commonwealth Insitute was built by the UK Government, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, opening in 1962. Designed by Edinburgh born architect Robert Matthew of the architectural firm Johnson-Marshall & Partners.

Located in part of the grounds of Holland Park on High Street Kensington, the building was the centre for cultural events, exhibitions, plays and films related to the British Commonwealth group of countries. The theatre auditorium was in an adjoining building at the rear of the Institute building. It was was equipped with 16mm and 35mm projection, with Dolby stereo surround. There was a large stage and two dressing rooms. It was re-furbished in 1997, and again in 2000.

The building was closed suddenly in 2001, amid much controversy, due to the secrecy in the way it happened, and the fact it had been sold to a developer. A planning application was put forward to redevelop the building into an art gallery, with some residential use, which was vigerously opposed.

The Commonwealth Institute has been described as the second most important post-war building in London, after the Royal Festival Hall, and was designated a Grade II* Listed building in 1988. In 2005, the developers requested the Listed building status be removed, but this was refused. In 2009, the building still sat empty and unused in this affluent area of West London.

On 19th September 2009, revised plans were approved by Kensington & Chelsea Council for the Insitute building to become a new home for the Design Museum. This entailed renovation and a few alterations to the Institute building, but the theatre auditorium and other surrounding buildings would be demolished. The Design Museum was opened by Sir Terence Conran in November 2016.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 24, 2009 at 8:21 am

Viewed from Holland Park in April 2007:
This colourful array of Commonwealth countries flags used to fly outside the building:
Now the flagpoles are bare:

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