Why do we love empty spaces? Why is it exciting to stand in a deserted building and feel the solitude, especially if the place was once full of people going about their daily lives, or enjoying an excursion? This feeling is there in any empty location but especially in large spaces. There is fading grandeur, melancholy decay, a reminder that even in the inanimate world things come to an end.
It’s hard to say from the picture where this sad space was or what purpose it served. It could be any condemned building, except for the extrovert ceiling tiles which tell you that this once an ambitious place.
The ceilings are often the first parts to go in an abandoned building. Tiles start falling, water gets in and nature starts to stake a claim on what is left.This room was destined for destruction but other parts of the empty museum are going to survive.
I’m not completely sure if this long room is one of them.
It still commands a pleasant view of the park.
This room on the other hand is definitely here to stay.
The empty museum is still a unique place.
In fact, stripped of its contents you can concentrate on this enormous room’s most striking feature, the ceiling.
And above all the shape. The museum is the direct descendant of the interiors we looked at a few weeks ago in Halls of Empire. Although the Commonwealth Institute shared some of the uncertain purpose of its Imperial predecessor you can see that the sixty or so years which separate the two have not dimmed the desire to impress.
Even after being empty for many years the central space retains the optimism of the early 1960s.
Let’s walk downwards.
We can take a closer look at that slanting supporting pillar.
There are wires everywhere in here like the rigging of a yacht. And here is the centre of the space, now marked simply with an eight pointed star.
We have to take one last descent to the ground floor.
The stained glass window represents different countries of the Commonwealth.
We can go now. The main building of the Commonwealth Institute will be reborn as the new Design Museum so the empty museum will be filled again. But there are some stairs that will never be walked down again.
And some views which are gone for good.
These pictures were deposited in the Library by Montagu Evans Chartered Surveyors . As part of their brief they created a record of the Institute as it was. The photographs are by Ben Murphy. He has done a remarkable job both in terms of creating that visual record but also artistically in catching the look of the interior. I know some of you will never get to the Library for a visit but if you’re interested in the Commonwealth Institute this set of images is a valuable part of its history.
Mr Murphy’s website has more of his work: www.benmurphy.co.uk