Young V&A crafted as a ‘joyful’ space for children and families

Young V&A opens in east London promising a ‘joyful’ experience for children of all ages

Young V&A, Town Square with Feature Stair
(Image credit: Luke Hayes courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Young V&A, formerly the Museum of Childhood, is ready to open its doors, following a three-year-long redesign process, which aimed to realign the institution's purpose and refocus it on its dedicated audience – children of all ages, families and young people. As indicated by its change in name (which was implemented to highlight that the new space is more 'for' rather than 'of' childhood), the new, free cultural attraction in east London's Bethnal Green is squarely orientated towards younger audiences, who will now be able to re-enter its original building's spectacular space from 1 July 2023. 

Young V&A, Place (Village) Installation, Imagine Gallery

(Image credit: David Parry courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The Young V&A, a London museum reimagined

Young V&A is housed in a Grade II*-listed building with a 150-year history, set on Cambridge Heath Road. It is a dramatic Victorian building with a partly prefabricated iron structure and plenty of original features, such as its central courtyard and 19th-century marble mosaic floor. 

Now, with the help of architecture studios De Matos Ryan (which led on the spatial planning) and AOC (spearheading the visitor experience), as well as the V&A’s own curatorial and project management teams, and while preserving the historic legacy of the structure, the building has been transformed into an open, light-filled, flexible space that is fit for purpose through a wide selection of offerings. 

There are three new galleries, a suite of new, larger and better-equipped workshop and learning spaces, a purpose-built 515 sq m gallery for showcasing major exhibitions, and a new shop and café, the museum's representatives explain. 

Young V&A, Design for Change Display, Design Gallery

(Image credit: David Parry courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Everything has been reworked with inclusivity, accessibility and visitor engagement in mind. Interactive elements abound, from the red velvet stage set, which young visitors are welcome to take over, to optical illusions, and the numerous displays, with objects dating from 2,300 BC to today and from across the world. The main galleries' themes, Play, Imagine and Design, aim to capture little ones' imaginations and promote creativity for all ages.

Young V&A, The Stage, Imagine Gallery

(Image credit: Luke Hayes courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

'[The project was] a call for creativity in young children and teens,' said Helen Charman, director of learning, national programmes, and Young V&A at the launch. 'Creativity and imagination are not skills to thrive with, they are survival skills. Young minds and creativity are at the centre of this museum.'

Young V&A Shop

(Image credit: Luke Hayes courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Creating a 'joyful' museum

'We took these cues, to make the world's most joyful museum, and tried to make it manifest,' explained Philippa Simpson, director of design, estate and public programme at the V&A. Crafting design gestures that allow the interior to become awash with light, making even walking up the stairs exciting, and more playful touches everywhere, took centre stage in the project, which was crafted heavily in consultation with children. Simpson continued: 'It was about ceding control of it, and letting them say what they needed and wanted.' 

Young V&A Design Gallery, Hero Arm

(Image credit: Luke Hayes courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Young V&A will throw open its doors on 1 July 2023, and will host a free summer festival on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 July, filled with activities and performances for young audiences – and beyond. 

Young V&A, Play Gallery, view across the Mini Museum

(Image credit: Luke Hayes courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London) 

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).