So long Shad Thames

Turn right down Bishopsgate, cross the road and go down Bevis Marks until you reach St Mary’s Axe. So started many walks with graphic design students from Liverpool Street Station to the Design Museum, always accompanied by a lecture on architecture . I initially learnt the route from a colleague of mine, (thanks Lindsey), which I then honed over the years. And it is a great shame that I won’t be taking this journey with students again, for last week, the Design Museum shut its Shad Thames doors as it relocates to Kensington.


The 30 minute route took us past the Gerkin, the Lloyds Building and the Tower of London; then on over Tower Bridge to arrive at the old warehouse converted to resemble a white ‘modernist’ 1930s structure. The journey could take longer, depending on how many photographs students wanted to take or how freeform I allowed the lecture to go.

The first exhibition I saw at Shad Thames was the 2007 Alan Fletcher retrospective, then without students. Since that time I’ve taken in Terence Conran, Wim Crouwel, Paul Smith, Zaha Hadid, Jonathan Barnbrook, Javier Mariscal and countless others. Not to mention many Design of the Year Award shows. It has been a constant source of inspiration over the last 10 years.

The old Design Museum at Shad Thames

I will miss the walk, and the location, but the museum needed to move on as it was getting very crowded in that old warehouse. And with its doors closed until it re-opens across the city in November, and with Kemistry Gallery a receding memory, it highlights that graphic design exhibitions are few and far between in the capital.

Thankfully though, if you look hard enough, there are many venues outside of London that do see the value of good graphic design exhibitions. The De La Warr Pavillion have demonstrated this, and more importantly, that there is an audience for such shows. In the past 2 years it has had a run of successful exhibitions from Ivan Chermayeff to Ladybird by Design, and its current offering, Willem Sandberg, is also getting good reviews. Likewise, both Bournemouth’s Russell Cotes gallery and Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre have had the Alphonse Mucha retrospective on display within the last year, and Snape’s Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust in Suffolk is currently hosting Alan Kitching’s A Life In Letterpress after it finished at Somerset House. Unfortunately though, all of these are a little more difficult to get students to than London—even the Norwich and Suffolk shows mentioned would require coaches.

Terence Conran Design Museum exhibition vinyl

I am looking forward to seeing the new Design Museum premises and its permanent collection on display. Unfortunately because of its position it won’t be possible to walk students there from Liverpool Street, but at least it is in close (ish) proximity to the V&A and the RCA for joint ventures. But for the sake of tradition I think I’ll have to gen up on buildings in the Kensington area for a post-exhibition ramble and architectural lecture to my long suffering students.

Thanks Shad Thames for the memories, here’s to the future.

The new Design Museum opens its doors in Kensington on 24 November 2016. Check its website for more details.

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Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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