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Friend & Company’s V&A shop revamp embraces digital fabrication

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The revamped V&A shop returns to its 1860s roots, inspiring an unapologetically digital take on craftsmanship

Friend & Company has led the new design of the Victoria & Albert Museum shop along with Millimetre, after winning an international competition in 2016. 

The V&A archives at Blythe House reveal that the first V&A shop, as early as 1863, was a showcase for new crafts and a place for visitors to connect with the museum collections. This remodel creates a multifunctional space in keeping with the museum, capable of hosting events as well as classic retail areas. 

The new shop substantially increases its displayable wall space through a concept of lanes and street facades that grew from close examination of previously hidden steel structures. A suspended ceiling, installed in the 1970s, has been removed to increase height and reveal the historic development of the building. This structure is echoed with bespoke 10mm mild steel shelving ‘weldments’.

A new ’pocket workshop’ demonstration space for craft will have a quarterly materials focus, starting with ceramics. Timber shelves are stacked and slotted into water-jet cut structural glass fins so they appear to float on ‘structural air’. This glass and timber structure was then clad in glass shingles held in place with timber stakes. In using these slotting components, the façade of the pocket workshop is the third prototype of an autonomous housing assembly method that Friend & Company has pioneered, seen previously in its Span House and Helix Studio projects.

Both pavilions make use of the latest robotic craft, and all materials have been digitally manufactured – either laser cut, CNC routed or 3D printed – before the painstaking application of a custom hand finish. These include a silver zinc base coat for black patinated mild steel weldments, the green/blue glazes for the ceramic carpet, the timber white oil and the white silver custom car paint applied to the newly exposed historic zinc galvanised steel columns and beams. A jewellery pavilion is formed of four mild steel weldments weighing half a tonne each, and laser cut to a precise pattern before being hand-welded and finished in a zinc spray that is then patinated. A completely new 3D-printed ceramic carpet was also made for this space of the shop. Throughout, the practice has instigated partnerships with craftspeople and worked with the V&A team.

The world’s first ever 3D-printed ceramic tile has been created for segments of the floor. Designed with Guan Lee of Grymsdyke Farm, a continuous and changing pattern flows over each unique tile, like the unfurling of a carpet. A 20th-century Chinese bowl formed the basis of the design; its pattern was digitally altered and reinvented using algorithms, printed by a robotic arm, and then hand-glazed.

The lighting system is designed to be tuneable, changing colour with the time of the day as well as the seasons, to harmonise with light colour levels outside the museum.

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Architect’s view

We wanted to make a comfortable environment inside the new V&A shop. Our approach is collaborative and experimental, seeking to make real our ‘total architecture’ approach, in which everything has been designed for a specific fit and a place that instinctively feels right.   

The shop design is a showcase of the latest innovative digital fabrication and robotic craft processes demonstrating the role of artisan hand-finished techniques that lie within 21st-century applied arts. It is a reminder that the first wood veneers and plastics that we commonly think of as manufactured – some of which date from the 19th century and are in the V&A collection – were actually hand made.

We celebrated the historic fabric too, uncovering a steel frame that we made an integral component of the new shop design. Throughout we have aimed to reconnect the V&A main shop with the history of the V&A and its collections.

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Client’s view

In redesigning the main shop, the museum has created a more flexible and dynamic space, which will function in close dialogue with the galleries, exhibitions and events surrounding it. It now offers a unique and relaxing shopping experience.

The main shop features an area for visitors to view the curated custom prints collection, alongside a jewellery pavilion and the ‘pocket studio’ which will focus on a different material every four months, starting with ceramics. The shop will also continue its legacy of working with talented independent designers, including 1882, McIndoe and Iris De La Torre, who have created a number of exclusive ranges.

Project data

Start on site 3 March 2017 
Completion 5 May 2017 
Gross internal floor area 470 m2
Form of contract or Procurement Route JCT Standard Contract 
Architect Friend and Company Architects 
Client Victoria & Albert Museum 
Structural engineer ARUP
MEP consultant ARUP
Lighting consultant ARUP Lighting 
Quantity surveyor cost consultant Currie & Brown
Other specialist consultants Shop Fitting and Visual Merchandise Kit Millimetre, Research Facility (3d printing) Grymsdyke Farm
Project manager Equals 
CDM coordinator Friend and Company Architects
Approved building inspector Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
Main contractor Umdasch 

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