London’s Design Museum is spending $125 million to renovate its new home – the former Commonwealth Institute building – scheduled to open in 2015. (Queen Elizabeth II was there in 1962 for the original opening of the Institute, which was a charity to promote education throughout the Commonwealth.) Regarded by English Heritage as the second most important modern building in London, after the Royal Festival Hall (1951), it’s a low brick structure topped with a tall swooping roof made with 25 tons of copper. It appears like a giant tent in a park, surrounded by gardens and lawns. Architect Rem Koolhaas was the first to draw up renovation plans, but Englishman John Pawson was ultimately chosen to convert the hall into the new museum. A year later, the museum presented a major exhibition of Pawson’s work at its current location.
Pawson knows how to convert. One of his most intriguing projects was turning a dilapidated farm in the Czech Republic into a sleek modern monastery for the Trappist Order (the only one in the country). Twenty monks make the Monastery of Nový Dvůr home and produce a variety of lucrative products including jam, coffee and dietary supplements. “The story that a band of wandering Trappist monk stepped into Calvin Klein’s limestone and glass store on Madison Avenue one day, and were so taken with its elegantly minimal spaces that they immediately dedicated to track down its architect and hire him to design their monastery is a myth,” wrote Deyan Sudjic, the architecture critic at The Observer who is now director of the Design Museum. Other friends/clients of Pawson’s include the aforementioned minimalist Calvin Klein and Studio 54 entrepreneur-turned-hotelier Ian Schrager. Note: the monks, who speak, did ask Calvin Klein to design their robes and he agreed but Sudjic reports that “the monks changed their minds when they realized that it might not be a good idea to be quite so stylishly turned out and to attract quite so much publicity for it.”