Threnody. Dirge. Lament. Epitaph. Elegy. Wake. There are so many English terms to describe the passing of people and things that you wonder if introspection about demise might be a national characteristic. All these words are on my (doggedly cheerful) mind as staff have moved out of London’s Design Museum, securing the last open door with a padlock on 30 June and leaving inside cavernous spaces with rusting memories of designer people and designer things.
So what was the old Design Museum? It arose from a conversation between Terence Conran and me in 1978. He was the proprietor of Habitat, whose decent, modern merchandise revolutionised popular taste, and I was the author of a book about design he had just discovered. He was about to revolutionise me by asking for help to make something that would be as useful to contemporary students, from the point of view of inspiration, as the old V&A had once been to him.
Our prospectus began with a series of popular exhibitions in that august old museum and then we built a spiffy new one of our own. Mrs Thatcher opened it in August 1989 at Butler’s Wharf, just southeast of Tower Bridge. At the time, the glorious view of the City included only Seifert’s NatWest Tower as a punctuation mark on the horizon. Two year’s after Big Bang, the mood was still very Eighties. And so, too, I now see, was the character of the Design Museum.