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SJS was commissioned by the V&A to help develop their thinking around the future of the V&A East project. The project explored ideas of activity, display, timescales, chronology and the connection of the new gallery to its East London context. Its aim was to both develop the vision and brief as well as helping to think strategically about the future role of the museum as a public, civic space.

Culture, activity, economy: The V&A is already a machine for
communicating narratives of East London. From the restituted
Bromley By Bow room (shown to accentuate it’s ‘staged’ quality),
through the historical products of East London’s industry, its
new forms of cultural and technological practice, to its changing
demographics and populations, the V&A stages encounters between
East London past, present and future. A site of encounter between
evolving cultures, attitudes possibilities. Here, we see, for example
a long history of the politics of regeneration in the East End - both
wealth generation and poverty - ideas of morality encountering older
traditions of Western art history (the nudity of David, the ‘Royal fig
leaf ’) alongside the V&A’s own historical role as a presenting models of
practice and product to the East End.

The V&A and its collections are records not only of ‘design’ but of
the politics and ideologies of both design and itself as an institution.
Connections can be made across the collection that talk of these
issues in ways that simultaneously address contemporary issues: Here,
rear from left to right: Victorian domesticity (the Arts & Crafts, with
its own interest in patterns and exoticism), Imperialism of wealth
and colonialism (maquette of the Albert Memorial, prints of the
ruins of Palmyra, Crusader castles etc). Exploration and geometry of
cartography (maps of Damascus) astronomy and geography (globes)
alongside contemporary missile-eye view to topography. Fragments of
Syrian decorative objects, alongside an interior of ‘The Jungle’ migrant
camp, Calais. Display in this manner suggests the connected nature of
the ‘modern’, and its historical origins: That domesticity is a function of
war, that destruction is embedded in production, that geography and
maps are not innocent etc ...
The V&A is full of objects that were once ‘useful’, yet are often - for
reasons of conservation - removed from their original utility. Here,
a 13th century ablutions fountain is presented so that the ritual of
ablutions that it was originally made for can be staged around it, while
maintaining conservation. Activating the cultural (or other) roles of
objects allows the collection, and the histories that it contains to be
performed in the present.

What kinds of experience can a museum of the 21st century offer?
Supporting both creation and experience is a way to allow new
readings of design. Here, a large Kunsthall-space provides both the
flexibility and technical support for a real-life version of the Fun
Palace. This ‘Great Room could transform the possibilities of design
in the same way that Tate’s Turbine Hall transformed art practice. Yet
simultaneously, small spaces provide support for creative practice
that extend design practice in other ways: Here coding and music are
figured as forms of applied arts, and their creation is made a visible
part of the activities contained with the V&A.

How did we get here? What happens when we see different types of
serial production - from Medieval carvings of John the Baptists head
on a platter, via Electrotyping to 3D and digital production? Can
we find new ways of understanding the possibilities of the future by
examining the history of replication?

Breaking down the traditional distinctions between display, event,
support and production creates the possibility of creating new
relationships. In this view, we look from a studio space out into an
exhibition space, while in the distance we see conservation studios,
open workspaces and event spaces. A designer working on robotics is
seen in relation to a display of automata and other mechanical devices
suggesting ‘the future’ has a long history, and that the makers of today
are ways of interpreting the past.
Spatial organisation here suggests a ‘neighbourhood’ of related
activities. These are first revealed - displaying the mechanisms
of museology (watching conservation in action for example),
then arranged so that synergies between them can be exploited.
Blurring more comfortable thresholds into more porous, negotiated
relationships may also create friction between spaces. But then
neighbourhoods should not be idealised, and the act of negotiation can
be a source of more productive relationships.

Can long term displays of the V&A’s collection act as a springboard
for research, projects and ideas on a faster timescale? Here spatial
arrangements of permanent collection displays are aligned with spaces
for temporary displays and studio spaces that allow designers, artists
and curators to respond in unexpected and perhaps topical ways. In
doing so, new light can be shed on the collection, allowing new or
alternative narratives to be explored. These ‘fast’ processes can be
made visible and accessible to visitors, opening up dialogues about the
meaning and significance of objects and design to wider audiences.
Here we see examples of car design and ironwork, and in the distance,
responses that examine contemporary security devices and the
phenomenon of urban terrorism.