The Young V&A Museum has opened in Bethnal Green, east London – formerly known as the Museum of Childhood. It is housed in a 150-year-old Grade II listed building. It houses exhibits dating back to 2300 BC, as well as modern objects related to the theme of childhood. The renovation cost £13 million.
Architectural studios De Matos Ryan and AOC were responsible for the renovation . They made a staircase based on optical illusions one of the main elements and came up with a bright red stage for performances. The museum is so light and vibrant that it is called a magical toy store. The bureau worked alongside the V&A project team to refurbish the project and involved 22,000 schoolchildren, teachers, families, local residents, people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and other community groups in discussions.
Aimed at children under 14, Young V&A is set in three galleries marked with the giant words Play, Imagine and Design, around a central “town square” under a vaulted roof. In this space, roof additions made over the years were removed and a previously boarded-up large semi-circular window was opened to let in natural light. The architects added a spiral staircase to the square, topped with a bright reflective ball. The studio worked with children to design the staircase, which was based on optical illusion toys from the V&A collection.
The Young V&A is intended to be a “national resource” for creative learning. The ‘Design Gallery’ is located on the ground floor and features a range of items from both established and new creatives, such as tableware and toys, which are intended to highlight the role of design in everyday life over time. The gallery features artwork from various political movements, such as a colorful poster by artist Keith Haring and a copy of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s book Nobody’s Too Small to Make a Difference, which was published when she was 16.
The Play Gallery, designed primarily for young children, is located on the second floor. It features an interactive sandbox and color-coded design objects that encourage children to make connections between objects. The arched passage is cut through by a half-cone, which is half finished with reddish wood paneling, half painted with imitation green veined marble. Part ancient tomb, part wigwam, part children’s building block, this portal is modest in size. It leads to the so-called Mini Museum, a space designed for very young children that also features pebble and tiled floors and walls, a tunnel lined with artificial turf, and columns covered in mirrored mosaics and iridescent leatherette, all with a backdrop stately Victorian style, cast iron columns and timber framed windows overlooking the park.
AOC Studios added a red carpet stage and 125-person performance space at the Imagine Gallery, which is located across from the Play Gallery. Here children can dress up and put on their own shows. In this gallery, visitors can also view Joey the Horse, a life-size puppet made in 2009 that was used in more than 1,600 London productions of War Horse, a play by writer Michael Morpurgo.
“The museum is the first of its kind and, as it continues to work in partnership with teachers and schools locally and across the country, it will become a powerful resource for supporting art and design teaching,” said V&A director Tristram Hunt. The renovation also includes a gift shop and café, and the lower floors house a game studio, reading room or quiet room, and what the museum calls the area’s “first changing room” – a restroom designed to be fully wheelchair accessible.