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AOC wins contest for V&A Museum of Childhood fit-out

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The Victoria and Albert Museum has selected AOC as fit-out designer for a major refurbishment of its Grade II*-listed Museum of Childhood in east London

The local practice was chosen ahead of a shortlist of unnamed rival firms to win the £3.9 million contract, part of a £13.5 million overhaul of the museum.

AOC will assist the museum and ‘base build’ designer De Matos Ryan in the ambitious and contentious co-designed makeover of the historic 1872 ironwork building, which hosts thousands of childhood objects from the 16th century to the present day.

The interior design commission is part of wider redevelopment project to deliver three new permanent galleries, two flexible exhibition spaces, improved retail and catering areas, new back-of-house facilities, upgraded learning spaces and new toilets. De Matos Ryan was appointed to oversee the scheme’s base build in a contract worth £3.3 million one year ago.

AOC director Geoff Shearcroft said: ‘The transformation of the historic V&A Museum of Childhood provides a fantastic opportunity to develop new ways for young people and their families to explore and engage with the V&A’s world-class collections in the 21st century.

‘We are looking forward to developing a public building that is both an essential civic space for Bethnal Green and a physically and socially interactive museum for multi-generational and inter-cultural audiences.’

Philippa Simpson, who superseded David Bickle as V&A director of design and FuturePlan earlier this year, said: ‘The V&A are thrilled to be working with AOC on this seminal project.

‘Their response to our challenging brief outlined an exciting and ambitious approach to working openly with our community and our wider audience, as well as a deep understanding of the museum as a vehicle for social change.

‘They will play a critical role in realising the V&A’s mission to create a museum filled with joy and optimism, a place where everyone can see the potential of design to change the world.’

The Museum of Childhood opened in 1872. It was originally known as the East London Museum of Art & Science and later as the Bethnal Green Museum. It was created from an ironwork structure originally used by the main V&A museum in South Kensington and featured interiors designed by James William Wild.

The landmark building on Bethnal Green Road has featured items relating to childhood since the 1920s and was rebranded as a specialist Museum of Childhood in the 1970s. The latest commission comes 10 years after Caruso St John completed a phased revamp of the venue, delivering a new entrance pavilion and improved visitor facilities.

De Matos Ryan's proposed £3.3 million overhaul of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) Grade II*-listed Museum of Childhood in east London

De Matos Ryan’s proposed £3.3 million overhaul of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) Grade II*-listed Museum of Childhood in east London

Source: Image by Darcstudio

De Matos Ryan’s proposed £3.3 million overhaul of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) Grade II*-listed Museum of Childhood in east London

Following the unveiling of De Matos Ryan’s proposals for the building, Caruso St John raised concern about a new basement entrance, designed to improve access for school groups and buggies, claiming it adversely affected the building’s symmetry.

The redevelopment project follows increasing growth in visitor numbers and school visits and aims to allow to double the number of items the museum can display from its 35,000-strong collection.

The multidisciplinary base build team will restore the Grade II*-listed building, upgrade its permanent galleries and learning spaces, and design temporary exhibitions. Planned new features include a 650m² interactive ‘A-to-Z’ exhibition of children’s objects, an art gallery, a children’s design studio, and a play area.

The interior fit-out team will meanwhile work with the base build team and museum to design the museum interiors, engaging a range of new emerging practices to deliver individual commissions as part of the scheme.

The redevelopment is the latest project to emerge from the V&A’s ongoing FuturePlan programme, which has engaged high-profile architects such as MUMA, David Kohn, Friend & Company and Amanda Levete. Carmody Groarke completed a new members room for the V&A in 2017.

Commenting on Simpson’s appointment to head up FuturePlan following Bickle’s decision to leave V&A last year, the museum’s deputy director Tim Reeve said: ’We are delighted to have appointed Philippa Simpson to the role of director of Design and FuturePlan, at one of the most exciting moments in the V&A’s history.

‘Philippa will oversee an ambitious programme of capital projects and gallery refurbishments across the V&A’s growing family of sites. With her experience leading the V&A’s Design team on the most ambitious building project for a hundred years, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, her creative vision and collaborative spirit, we know Philippa will thrive in this very important and prestigious role for the V&A.’

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