Kensington’s former Commonwealth Institute and future new home of the London Design Museum had life injected into its building with the launch of this year’s InTransit Festival. Now in its fourth year the Festival transforms the streets, parks and public spaces of Kensington and Chelsea and brings a feast of cultural events that encourage locals and visitors alike to enjoy some complex art forms. This year, InTRANSIT ran from the 15th to 31st of July at the former Commonwealth Institute (that deserted and overgrown green parabolic roofed structure near the Holland Road end of High Street Kensington) with the opening performance: Common Sounds: Touching the Void on the 15th of July.
The show was a unique collaboration between Rambert Dance Company, the London Contemporary Orchestra, the NeoFuturistic Collective and various others who combined their artistic efforts and devised a new audio-kinetic adventure within the iconic building.Built on a site of 3 and 1/4 acres with the front of the building facing onto Kensington High Street of 125 feet the former Commonwealth Institute has stood pretty much empty, with the exception of the odd council or homeless visitor since 2002 when the building was closed to the public.
From 1962 to 2000, the operation of the Commonwealth Institute was funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and ran an important library of Commonwealth literature as well as hosting a variety of cultural events. In 2000, ownership of the building was transferred to a Trust managed on behalf of the High Commissioners to London of the Commonwealth nations. The closure of the Institute building, by the Trust, led to much controversy due to the secrecy under which it was carried out; the recent expenditure of money on repairs to the building and the proposal by the Trust to demolish the building and sell the site for residential development. Restructuring of the Charity and disposal of the building cost approximately £7m in redundancies, restructuring and professional fees by July 2006.
The total floor area of the building is 132,000 square feet (12,300 m2) made up of an Exhibition Hall (60,000 sq ft), Administration block (47,500 sq ft), Art gallery and ancillary rooms (5000 sq ft), cinema, stage and dressing rooms (6000 sq ft) and basement workshops and storage (13,500 sq ft). All of this has been only touched and explored by damp, rain and wind in ten years and yet this year’s InTRANSIT festival brought the building back to life with three days of unique performances that took and immersed audiences on a journey deep into the nooks and crannies of this forgotten building.
The Commonwealth Institute was designed by Robert Matthew/Sir Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall and Partners (architects) and engineered by AJ & JD Harris of Harris & Sunderland and is soon to become the new home of the Design Museum. Kensington and Chelsea have approved plans from one of the world’s most innovative architectural practices: Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture which is responsible for the 234 meter high CCTV tower in Beijing.
This will mean another cultural addition to the Royal Borough by 2013 but it will also benefit the Design Museum whose hopes include doubling their yearly visitors to more than 400,000.Cllr Nick Paget-Brown, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Transportation, Environment and Leisure at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, said about the festival: “In keeping with our reputation for nurturing cutting-edge artistic talent, this year we’re especially delighted that we were able to hold the launch InTransit event at the old Commonwealth institute, one of Kensington and Chelsea’s most iconic landmarks and soon to be back in the public realm as the new Design Museum”www.rbkc.gov.uk/InTRANSIT