Young V&A
Bethnal Green, London, 2018-23


The redevelopment of the V&A's former Museum of Childhood, a Grade II* listed building in east London, to create a 21st century museum, activating the collection to build creative confidence in future generations.

The V&A Museum opened at South Kensington in 1857, with the collection displayed in a cast iron building nicknamed the 'Brompton Boilers'. A decade later the structure was dismantled, moved east to Bethnal Green, re-erected on public land, clad in brick and opened in 1872 as the Bethnal Green Museum. Over the last 150 years the museum has consistently evolved - in its name, contents, displays, audiences and decoration.

Currently the National Museum of Childhood, it is transforming from a museum of social history to an incubator of creative confidence. We were appointed as lead designers of the museum to create three new permanent galleries and reimagine the visitor experience, including the entrance, Town Square, shop, café and room for rest and reflection.

The reimagined museum will provide both a world-class centre of creativity and an essential public building for the local community. Early in the process we mapped the community within a 15 minute walk of the museum, a neighbourhood map that helped overcome physical barriers and preconceptions to define the museum's local social ecology.

The transformed museum aims to reflect its diverse publics in its objects, stories and experiences. We have worked collaboratively with children, families, teachers, curators and staff through a series of events and workshops to co-design proposals, co-curate the collection and co-produce content.

In June 2019 we opened Open Studio in the temporary gallery. A collaborative space to explore, test and develop the future museum it includes:

  • The Test Lab - for 1:1 prototypes and testing to explore the relationship between visitor, object and gallery
  • The Workshop - to spatially and socially test activities and events
  • The Design Studio - for our team to work and meet in the museum, giving the opportunity for visitors and staff to see work in progress with large scale models, samples and prototypes.

The transformation and continued use of the historic building is the starting point for creating a sustainable museum. The building’s central Town Square provides a generous civic interior in Bethnal Green. The grandeur of the historic space is tempered with a family of soft elements and acoustic linings, introducing comfort and encouraging new uses.

The Stage, a 125-person-capacity performance space, will form the new centrepiece for the museum’s popular daily programme of family activities as well as presenting a platform for children to perform their own shows.

The gallery designs balance the right of objects to be securely displayed with the opportunity for children and their families to engage with the collection and each other. The Imagine gallery provides an intense series of displays in which objects can be enjoyed and props played with.

The Play gallery provides a diverse range of free-play areas for children of all ages to engage and respond to objects from the collection.

New interventions sample the forms and memories of the historic building, creating a contemporary experience that resonates with the past. In the Design gallery on first floor ‘The Designer’s House’ and a new design display sample the roof trusses and the cladding profile of the original ‘Brompton Boilers’ to create new structures redolent of the saw-tooth roofs of east London’s industrial heritage.

International design competition. First Prize. Opening 2023.

Client
Victoria & Albert Museum

Location
Cambridge Heath Rd, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA

Graphic designers
Graphic Thought Facility

Digital media designer
Harmonic Kinetic

Materials expert
FranklinTill

Gallery lighting designer
ZNA studio

Project Manager
Lockerdell Consulting

Quantity Surveyor
Greenways

Base build architect
De Matos Ryan

Structural engineer
Price & Myers

Services engineer
P3r

Acoustic Engineer
Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design

Access & Inclusion Consultant
GOSS

Heritage consultant
James Edgar