From the playground up

Abigail is carefully cutting around her bunny face mask, a vision of four-year-old concentration. Next to her, Edith gets busy with the pink felt-tip pen and glitter. Their younger siblings are off enjoying a jazz band, just some of the noisy droves of small children who descended on the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in London’s Bethnal Green, which relaunched last weekend after a £4.7m refurbishment. ‘It’s a museum, not a children’s play centre,’ staff had politely advised ahead of the reopening. But no one had told the small children, who enthusiastically excavated sandpits, explored the hands-on displays and experienced the touchy-feely sensory zone, while their parents perused the cases of historical displays. As the children play happily, they are largely oblivious of the splendid job done by the design team of architect Caruso St John and graphic design consultancy Kerr Noble, but they still enjoy the benefits. There is a substantial, decorated new entrance pavilion, new mezzanine galleries and learning centre, a pretty patterned ceiling, and a new colour scheme that avoids patronising primaries. Most importantly, the Victorian building’s previous, hangar-like atmosphere is banished. Perhaps Caruso St John’s biggest achievement is that the refurbishment lets the museum’s charming contents, from dolls houses to teddies, take centre stage. And if visitors take more notice of Miffy and company than the architecture, that’s probably just how it should be.

V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2

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