One of the iconic buildings of the 1960s, RMJM's Commonwealth Institute, is standing empty awaiting a future.
RMJM's Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, London, epitomises the post-war trend of collaborative design, one which, by the time the institute opened in 1962, was coming under increasing attack. Both Matthew and Johnson-Marshall had fostered team-working during their periods of public sector employment at the London County Council and the Ministry of Education respectively. The institute was indebted to James Gardner's design skills and Sylvia Crowe's sensitive landscaping, but above all to the engineering of A J and J D Harris, and particularly to James Sutherland, who played a major role in creating its most notable feature, its hyperbolic paraboloid roof. Inspired by the work of the celebrated 'shell-builder', Felix Candela, the roof gave visible expression to the architects' conception of the building as a 'tent in the park' – a conception unfortunately undermined by the LCC's refusal to demolish Holland Park's nearby boundary walls.
After a period of uncertainty and several abortive redevelopment schemes, the future of the building, listed grade II*, now looks brighter, with the institute shortlisting architects for major restoration. The main exhibition hall – the different levels and detailing of which recall the Royal Festival Hall – is currently closed but, with most of its display stands removed, for those fortunate enough to gain admission it provides one of London's most exciting interior spaces.