The Argument: What role does a museum of design play in the 21st century?


London’s Design Museum and its exhibition ‘Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things’ can be seen as an attempt to prove that off course a modern nation in the 21s century needs a design museum. When the plastic furniture’s so much enjoyed in the previous century are placed in every McDonald’s store around London, and the world of designers moved on long ago, the exhibition still want us to look at (not to be rude) these outdated designs and the material used to create them.

It is not to put under the carpet that the Design Museum is struggling. One year before its £80m move to the Commonwealth Institute, the museum are trying to answer a question they themselves don’t have an answer to – why should we come and sit in red plastic chairs and look at iconic objects when they surround us all the time in our daily life?

To prove this point – one of the objects in the exhibitions is a red phone box. Not a new type of phone box (still the same rectangular one) and definitely not a new type of red colour (I almost expected it to glow in the dark), but the same type of phone box that Londoners run past on their way to work every day. I then asked myself – why would I want to see that very same object in the museum when I can’t even use the phone?

My advice to you is that if you are dying to go to a design museum is to go to the new furniture gallery, which opened right before Christmas, at the Victoria and Albert museum. Here you can see furniture’s believed to have belonged to famous people such as Swift, the 18th century satirist. The new gallery breaths life into the old museum and shows that the V&A is more than just antique jewelry locked behind glass cases.

By all means, it was interesting enough to learn about the history of the phone box – but after spending a day looking at McDonald’s-like furniture I had had my fair share of design for one day and were not left with a urge to go back.

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