Hardcover176 PagesSize: 240 × 170 mm
110 B&W illustrations and 60 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848224100Publication: September 01, 2021

Imagining Empire

Designing the Commonwealth Institute

Tom Wilson


  • The Commonwealth Institute with its famous hyperbolic paraboloid roof is open to the public again as the new venue for the Design Museum – this book tells the full story of this fascinating building 
  • Drawing on visually rich and previously unseen material, the book includes architectural plans, construction and renovation photographs, and drawings by James Gardner and Archigram
  • Provides insights into the interrelations between architecture, national identity and politics and into the collaborative process between architect and exhibition designer

This book is the first detailed study of the Commonwealth Institute’s architecture and its exhibition galleries. It shows how the strikingly modern building and its dynamic displays inside worked together to create an immersive ‘experience’ of the Commonwealth, as part of a wider process during which post-war Britain began to focus on a future without its Empire. Featuring unpublished plans, drawings and historic photographs, the book sheds light on the various and often unstable ways in which the concept of the Commonwealth was presented to the British public.

Focusing on the years between 1958-1973, it starts at the point in which the imposing Victorian edifice of the Imperial Institute in South Kensington was reborn as the modern and progressive Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park. Following a brief history of the Imperial Institute, the book then outlines the circumstances that led to the Institute’s move to High Street Kensington. It shows how the Commonwealth Institute was conceptualised and developed by three key players: Kenneth Bradley, the Institute’s director; architect Stirrat Johnson-Marshall, the RNJN partner in charge of the project; the exhibitions designer James Gardner, who for many years was responsible for the projection of British national identity at international exhibitions. In this way, the book shows how the architecture of the Commonwealth Institute, the displays inside and the politics that governed its inception were largely intertwined.

Signup for our newsletter

Enter your email address for stock alerts, discounts, promotions and more!