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OMA reveals latest Commonwealth Institute plans

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Rem Koolhaas’ OMA has unveiled images of its proposals to revamp and redevelop RMJM’s Grade II*-listed Commonwealth Institute (CI) in Holland Park, west London.

The OMA team, led by partner Reinier de Graaf, landed the project for site owner Ilchester Estate and developer Chelsfield Partners following an international contest more than three years ago (AJ 18.03.2008).

The designs mainly show off plans for the proposed residential blocks, which will sit around the empty, tent-like 1962 landmark. Allies and Morrison is working with OMA as executive architects on the project while John Pawson is currently drawing up plans to convert this building into the new home of the Design Museum as part of a £77 million relocation project.

The architect’s view

There is probably no other period to which contemporary architecture is more indebted than the 1960s – a period of structural invention that finally allowed modern architecture to break free from the formalist geometries through which it had manifested itself. In the context of architecture’s present quest for the iconic, the 60s experiments form a rich reservoir of precedents. It is unfortunate that the 1960s is a period now threatened with extensive demolition.

We now the opportunity to conceive a new future for London’s Commonwealth Institute and to ultimately rehabilitate a period that continues to inform contemporary architecture.

The original building, by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, completed in 1962, marks the transition from British Empire to Commonwealth and is regarded by English Heritage, the UK government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment, as an important modern building. The Commonwealth Institute has stood empty and been closed to the public since 2002. In 2006, the grade II* listed building (one of the highest protection ratings possible in the UK), was threatened with demolition after a (failed) government proposal to de-list it. In December 2007, along with five other architectural firms, OMA were invited by Chelsfield deputy chairman Stuart Lipton to consider the potential of the Commonwealth Institute site.

OMA’s design seeks to save the building by re-injecting life into the modernist monument while retaining its distinctive copper roof and parabolic form. New residential accommodation will integrate into the existing fabric of the site, regenerating the western end of Kensington High Street.

Project data

Redevelopment of Commonwealth Institute
Status: Design Development
Client: Chelsfield and their partner Ilchester Estate
Location: Kensington and Chelsea, London
Site: Edge of Holland Park
Program: Addition of residential scheme alongside the rejuvenation of the 1960s structure

Architect: OMA / Allies and Morrison


Partners in charge: Reinier de Graaf, Rem Koolhaas
Project Architect: Mitesh Dixit
Team: Tudor Costachescu, Roza Matveeva, Thorben Bazlen, Miles Gertler Fenna Wagenaar, Greg R. Williams, Rachel Bate, Ross O’Connell, Andres Mendoza

Allies & Morrison

Partners in charge:
Robert Maxwell
Director in Charge: Simon Fraser
Project Architect: Heidi Shah
Team: Iris Hoffman, Johanna Coste-Buscayret, Irina Bardakhanova, Ines Kramer, Mike Slade



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