Dezeen Magazine

Young V&A

Young V&A designed as "national resource" for creative learning

Architecture studios De Matos Ryan and AOC have included a staircase informed by optical illusions and a bright red performance stage in the refurbished Young V&A children's museum in east London.

Formerly called the Museum of Childhood, Young V&A is located in Bethnal Green, east London, within a Grade II-listed building that is over 150 years old and houses objects sourced from 2,300BC to the present day.

Play gallery with colourful exhibits
AOC and De Matos Ryan transformed the Museum of Childhood into Young V&A. Photo is by Luke Hayes

Architecture studios De Matos Ryan and AOC worked with the V&A's project team to renovate the museum, as well as 22,000 schoolchildren, teachers, families, local people and both Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and other community groups.

Aimed at children aged up to 14, Young V&A is spread over three galleries marked by giant words – Play, Imagine and Design – around a central "town square" space under a barrel-vaulted roof.

Central hall of children's museum
The central "town square" is characterised by natural light

This central space was stripped of clunky roof additions made over the years, while a previously boarded-up, large semi-circular window was revealed to let natural light into the space.

"The central town square provides a generous civic interior in Bethnal Green," said AOC.

Spiral staircase at Young V&A
De Matos Ryan also added a spiral staircase to this space. Photo is by David Parry

De Matos Ryan added a spiral staircase to this space that was topped with a striking reflective orb.

The studio worked with children to design the staircase, which was informed by optical illusion toys in the V&A collection.

Transport artefacts in the Design gallery
Artefacts in the Design gallery intend to highlight the role of design in everyday life. Photo is by David Parry

The Design gallery is located on the first floor and features a range of objects by both established and emerging creatives such as kitchenware and toys, which intend to highlight the role of design in everyday life over time.

Artwork from various political movements has a place in the gallery, such as a colourful poster by artist Keith Haring dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and a copy of climate activist Greta Thunberg's book No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, which was published when Thunberg was 16.

Sawtooth roof structures
Sawtooth roof structures can also be found on the first floor

There is also an exhibit about Petit Pli – a wearable technology brand by Ryan Mario Rasin that manufactures children's clothes fitted with a pleat system that expands to fit kids as they grow.

The Design gallery also features sawtooth roof structures that nod to the original architecture of the South Kensington Museum – the site that has been known as London's V&A museum since 1899.

Interactive sandpit in the Play gallery
An interactive sandpit was included in the Play gallery

Created primarily for younger children, the Play gallery is located on the ground floor.

It was designed with an interactive sandpit and colour-coded design objects that invite kids to form connections between objects.

All-red stage and performance area at Young V&A
The Imagine gallery features an all-red stage and performance area

AOC added a 125-person-capacity all-red carpeted stage and performance area to the Imagine gallery, which is opposite the Play gallery, where children can dress up and put on their own show.

In this gallery, visitors can also find Joey the horse – a life-size puppet made in 2009 that was used in over 1600 London performances of War Horse, a world war one play by writer Michael Morpurgo that ran for two years.

"The museum is the first of its kind and by continuing to work in partnership with teachers and schools, locally and across the country, it will become a national resource for supporting the teaching of art and design," said V&A director Tristram Hunt.

The renovation also includes a new gift shop and a cafe, while lower-ground spaces accommodate services including a play studio, a reading space or quiet room and what the museum described as the borough's first Changing Places toilet – a lavatory designed for full accessibility.

Joey the horse from War Horse
A puppet from the play War Horse also features in the Imagine gallery. Photo is by David Parry

Young V&A reopens to the public this weekend.

As well as South Kensington, the V&A has an additional site in Dundee, Scotland. The V&A is also planning to open a fourth museum at London's Olympic Park in 2025. The South Kensington site's previous exhibitions have included a photography show by Tim Walker and the menswear exhibition Fashioning Masculinities.

The photography is by Luke Hayes unless otherwise stated and is courtesy of the V&A.