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


The V&A’s former Museum of Childhood, a Grade II * listed building in east London, has been transformed to create Young V&A, a 21st century museum to foster the next generation of artists, thinkers, makers and innovators.

AOC have led the design to reimagine the visitor experience and create new permanent galleries, collaborating with base build architects De Matos Ryan and a highly skilled design team.

The 5,200sqm redeveloped museum is both a world-class centre of creativity and an essential public building for the local community. The building’s central Town Square provides a generous civic interior in Bethnal Green. It is surrounded by three permanent galleries and a new temporary exhibition gallery, with learning studios and a workshop on the lower ground floor.

"It now feels like one of London’s great indoor public spaces, a British Museum great court ruled by the under-15s."
The Guardian

The historic grandeur of the town square is tempered with a London Plane perimeter bench, a family of soft elements and new café furniture. The redeveloped foyer provides a generous welcome with a convenient buggy park and an extensive new shop. Window seats and niches have been added throughout.

A series of figurative enclosures and playful totems have been introduced into the open volumes of the surrounding gallery floors to create a diverse range of experiences whilst maintaining visual connections throughout the building. The gallery names - Play, Imagine, Design - are writ large in redolent materials, enabling visitors to understand the museum in a single glance. Natural light and views out have been reintroduced to the interior. The careful arrangement of enclosures and cases allow the galleries to enjoy extensive daylight whilst conserving the collection.

The transformed museum is the result of an ambitious collaborative design process to ensure the museum reflects its diverse audiences in its objects, stories and spaces. 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.

We worked with children, families, teachers, curators and staff to co-design proposals, co-curate the collection and co-produce content.

Our 10 month residency in the Open Studio provided a testlab for public exploration of proposals before the museum closed for refurbishment. Co-creation defined the development of Young V&A; from the ambition to create ‘the most joyful museum in the world’ to the direct development of the colour palette, from testing user-led concept installations to curating specific contents of co-produced displays.

The Imagine gallery, on the north side of the building, is a sequence of immersive interiors that create a range of atmospheres, intimacies and acoustics. Its central structure, The Stage, provides a red oval performance space to host the museum’s daily programme and present a platform for children to perform their own shows.

On the southern side of the building, the Play gallery is an open landscape overlooking the Museum Gardens. Defined by distinct figures, its legible thresholds and discrete barrier seats ensure different ages and activities can coexist comfortably and allow parents and carers full visibility throughout the space. The ‘Mini Museum’ creates an innovative gallery experience for pre-walkers and their families, extending the sensory experience of collection objects beyond the case with tactile materials and actively supporting multi-generational interaction. Soft and textured materials line the floor, walls and ceiling, chosen for their performative qualities to support collaborative play and conversation.

On first floor, The Design Gallery combines immersive gallery rooms with flexible open spaces defined by a robust palette of restored existing floorboards and reclaimed timber. Tabletop displays, inspired by design studio workbenches, show contemporary objects, with showcases wrapped around the galleries displaying objects from the collection. A hemp-clad studio for a resident designer offers active display windows with sliding doors to support planned and spontaneous communal activities.

The ambition for a sustainable museum took the building’s early history as its starting point. The cast iron structure was originally assembled in west London, on the site of what is now the V&A, before being disassembled and reassembled in Bethnal Green where it opened as a museum in 1872. Museum showcases from both sites have been repurposed and carefully adapted for new displays. Timber from former gallery storage has been reused for new display tables, reclaimed timber studs from temporary exhibitions has been reused for support structures and masonry rubble from the building adaptation works has been reused to make terrazzo for new worktops.

The new structures prioritise low carbon, natural materials. On the first floor, The Factory and The Shed sample the roof trusses and the original ‘Brompton Boilers’ cladding profile to create new structures evocative of east London’s industrial heritage. Their expressed components designed for future re-assembly, are clad in corrugated sheets of low-carbon hemp fibre panels with sugar-based resin made entirely from agricultural waste.

"Every single surface and corner has been meticulously thought through, every junction embraced as an opportunity to spark a little more delight.

It is a tour de force of care, exhibiting a level of attention to detail rarely found in the built environment. What if buildings for grownups could be this joyful and inspiring too?"
The Guardian

Through co-creating with diverse audiences, activating the collection and sustainable material choices the design of the museum reasserts the importance of creativity in our communities and their cultures.

International design competition. First Prize. Realised.

Awards

  • Art Fund Museum of the Year 2024
  • AJ Retrofit & Reuse Awards shortlisted 2024
  • World Architecture Festival INSIDE: Public Buildings shortlisted 2024
  • Civic Trust Awards Regional Finalist (Greater London) 2024
  • AIA UK Design Awards Medium Project Commendation 2024

Client
Victoria & Albert Museum

Area
5,200 sqm

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
Alan Baxter

Fit-out Contractor
Factory Settings

Showcase Contractor
Florea

Collaborators
Rachel Whiteread, Artist
Rae Smith, Set designer
Emilie Queney, Co-producer
PLAY BUILD PLAY, Co-producer
Clay Interactive