The Commonwealth Institute – the fallow years

I seem to have fallen into a pattern of one post on a subject followed by a supplement. I had originally intended to use some pictures of the dormant days of the Commonwealth Institute building and a few of the recent redevelopment work in last week’s post but I found so many interesting pictures of the Institute in action that there wasn’t space. So this week there are some pictures of the days when the Institute was closed and waiting for its fate to be decided, and some of the building work progressing.

I took these photos. I don’t claim to be a great photographer but I can point and click which is sometimes all you need to do to catch the essence of a place.

As with this image of open water, the pond clogged with branches and covered with algae.


The bridge, or walkway. Note the photographer’s error focusing on the barrier rather than what was behind it. It makes an interesting image, but only by chance.


Here it is in focus. I took this picture in 2007, when you could get quite close to the building without encountering any barriers.


The main building with the concrete supports looking like they really are holding it up, and the administrative block beside it.


The flags, in 2009..


and 2012, with the green boards cutting most of them off from access.


Work begins, with digging and metal barriers.


Is that a theodolite?


Another picture taken through the barriers.


Work on the wall of the main building.


The last weeks of the admin block.


In close up.


Ten days later, the dust is rising over the perimeter boards.


The curtain walls are stripped away.


And the new buildings rise.


You could only stand on the edge, looking for some action.


More of that dust, from the relatively tranquil Holland Park side.

Not quite finally, an image I’ve used before from the time when overgrown grass surrounded the main building. (The wilderness years, you might say.)


And finally, one more picture from the archives. Back in 1962:


The Queen, opening the Institute. Perhaps the visiting dignitaries thought it would last longer than it did.


The earlier photos were taken with an Olympus compact camera, the later ones with a big Nikon which is very forgiving and nearly always gives a good picture. I’ve told the story before, in the early days of the blog but now that the Design Museum is up and running I wanted to present a few more pictures of the declining years. Hopefully, the new Museum will redeem the building and make us forget the days when it could almost have vanished for good.

Thanks to Roger Morgan for some error correction, and for general support of the blog.


3 responses to “The Commonwealth Institute – the fallow years

  • Roger J Morgan

    Very useful shots of the flagpoles – it appears they were not individually labelled with a brass name inset into a paving slab, neither was there such a row along Kensington High Street. So the row of such slabs bearing countries’ names now bordering the KHS pavement must have been deliberately created and sited by the developers as a memorial to the old Commonwealth Institute. Or could they have been elsewhere in the building?

    Incidentally, I think your ‘The New Buildings Rise’ is actually the old building – that is what it looked like when the blue curtain walling had been removed; the new flats do not have a huge overhanging cornice like that.

  • Oakleaf700

    Every schoolchild in the 1960’s within a coach ride of the Commonwealth Institute was taken here on Geography trips, I remember it as spot-lit, blonde wood, and countries grouped in areas within.
    I asked why there was no ”Russia” only to be told that Russia wasn’t part
    of the Commonweath”…I had a fascination with Russia as a child, thinking it a place out of an Ivan Bilibin story book.
    School children were the main visitors, I think..schoolkids are mainly interested in the gift shop though, being able [then] to buy a pencil or a leather bookmark stamped in gold, or a rubber [eraser] bearing the printed name of the place.

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