There is probably no other period to which contemporary architecture is more indebted than the 1960’s – 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 constect of archtecture’s present quest for the iconic, the 60’s experiments form a rich reservoir of precedents. It is unfortunate that the 1960’s is a period now threatedned with exensive demolition. We are very happy to be given the opportunity to conceive a new future for this building and to ultimately rehabilitate a period that continues to inform 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 delist it.
In December 2007, along with five other architectural firms, OMA were invited by Chelsfield deputy chairman Sir 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.
Two years ago the grade II* listed building, one of the highest protection ratings possible in the UK, was threatened with demolition following a UK government proposal to delist it. This collaboration seeks to save the building by re-injecting life into the modernist monument whilst retaining its distinctive copper roof and parabolic form. New residential accommodation will integrate into the existing fabric, regenerating that end of Kensington High Street.
OMA will explore a number of uses appropriate to the existing design, capitalizing on the building’s dynamic interior spaces. Careful consideration will be given to the relationship with Holland Park, possibly extending the park condition across the site connecting to the street. Any new residential development should serve to complement the qualities of the existing building.
The greatest challenge facing the project will be acknowledging the architectural quality of the Commonwealth Institute whilst simultaneously creating a distinct and contemporary project.
The site is complex: to the north it is separated by a wall from Holland Park and to the south it causes a disruption in the continuous frontage of Kensington High Street. The project will have to find inventive solutions to address these conditions.