Architecture practice Friend and Company has led the new design of the Victoria & Albert Museum shop, which opened on May 4th. With their signature total architecture approach the new shop embraces craftsmanship, and is set to be an inspirational space for the 21st century museum-goer. London-based Friend and Company won an international competition in 2016, leading a collective of designers with an approach true to the V&A’s ethos. After 12 months of collaborative work the eagerly anticipated new shop is open.
Situated at the heart of the museum, the site is crucial in defining the V&A experience. 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 multi-functional space in keeping with the museum, capable of hosting diverse events, as well as classic retail areas, to respond to its growing audience. Friend & Company's design is true to the V&A’s ethos, creating a new destination that embraces the museum’s legacy, and celebrates art and design.
Spatially the new shop substantially increases its displayable wall space through a concept of lanes and street facades that grew from a 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 and project films to reveal new narratives connecting the shop to the collections. This structure is echoed with bespoke 10mm mild steel shelving ‘weldments’.
The new Pocket Workshop demonstration space for craft will have a quarterly materials focus, starting with ceramics. A new Jewellery Pavilion shows the collections to their best advantage. Visitors will connect with the museum catalogue through these innovative spaces that also recall with the taxonomy of the first V&A shop. It was integral to the museum, selling catalogues and, in the 1860s, lantern slides to allow people to study the exhibits at home.
Both pavilions make use of latest robotic craft and are made from digitally fabricated components that have been beautifully hand-finished. This bespoke 21st Century applied art uses new materials and tailored finishes that are usually only achieved in workshops, and levels of precision normally only found in latest manufacturing technologies. The Jewellery Pavilion is formed of four mild steel ‘weldments' weighing half a ton each. They have been laser-cut to a precise pattern, hand-welded, and finished in a zinc spray that is then patinated.
The Pocket Workshop displays a glass and timber structure in which 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 is then clad in glass shingles held in place with timber stakes.
A completely new 3D printed ceramic carpet, a form of robotic craft, was made for this space of the shop. Thanks to these interventions the V&A’s desire to create distinctive experimental spaces that transcend the galleries, and celebrate a spirit of invention, is continued in the Workshop and Pavilion.