Winner 2017

Award for
The Award for Structural Transformation

Project Description

Arup provided a radical engineering solution to enable the successful re-invigoration of the Grade II* Listed Commonwealth Institute exhibition building, creating a new home for the Design Museum. The sophisticated solution involved strengthening and then retaining the building’s 2000 tonne (55m x 55m) roof and primary structure by temporarily suspending it 20m above ground, supported entirely by temporary works. This enabled the replacement of the existing façade and internal structure and the creation of a significant new basement covering the entire building plan. The building’s amazing transformation has continued to entice and delight visitors since opening in November 2016.

Judge’s comments

Used frequently in the 1960s and 70s, hyperbolic paraboloid roofs are smoothly curving in shape, but are formed from a series of straight pieces.

The copper-covered hyperbolic paraboloid roof of the Grade II* listed Commonwealth Institute exhibition building, originally constructed in 1962, weighs 2000 tonnes and measures some 55m x 55m – the same area as 15 tennis courts. It was strengthened and then supported on temporary supports, in its original position some 20m above ground. Then its walls and floors were demolished. Below the temporarily supported roof, new basement and floor structures were constructed, ultimately being built up to provide permanent support for the roof. The roof is very thin - so damage to it could be caused if movements in the temporary supports exceeded a tiny + or – 5mm.

Particularly impressive is the way in which the risks associated with supporting such a large fragile roof so high in the air were dealt with, by initial painstaking investigation, the design of strengthening and analysis of various scenarios, for example, the supports moving after initially being set up.

This audacious transformation of a listed building has created a fitting new home for the Design Museum and has delighted hundreds of thousands of visitors since its opening in November 2016.       

Project overview

Structural Designer

  • ARUP

Client Name

  • Chelsfield Partners LLP


  • London, UK


  • John Pawson Limited, OMA, Allies & Morrison, West 8

Principal Contractor

  • MACE

Year Submitted

  • 2017

Submitted By

  • ARUP