For Christmas 2018, we were thrilled to design two Christmas trees for the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London – one for the V&A in South Kensington, and one for the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Our main visual inspiration came from the striking front cover of the 1966 book The Christmas tree, illustrated by Fredun Shapur, a copy of which is held in the V&A. We wanted our design for the trees to celebrate the museum’s wide collection and, considering that an artificial Christmas tree has a carbon footprint up to 20 times greater than a farmed one, be produced with minimal environmental impact.
The centre of each tree was decorated by 12 backlit windows, each one displaying a different toy from the Museum of Childhood’s collection lovingly and delicately re-created as a laser-cut model in recycled cardboard. From a toy train and a reindeer to a teddy bear and a soldier, the toys displayed were timeless symbols of Christmas, and whilst the decorations at the V&A were minimal and white in their appearance, those at the Museum of Childhood had been playfully decorated by local children during a workshop. Both trees were lit from within by computer-controlled animated lights to provide a subtle, homely glow.
The tree standing in the main entrance of the V&A’s South Kensington museum was over three metres tall, and made using upcycled waste materials: recycled plastic bottles created the colourful, speckled top and bottom parts of the tree, while the blue middle section was made from a recycled paper composite.
For the V&A Museum of Childhood tree, we used wood fibre panels in blue and green to correlate with the unique colours and textures of the museum’s interior. The tree’s green top featured a striking gold and silver metallic pattern to play with the scale of the tree and create magical reflections around it.
The trees’ sustainable materiality was beautiful and unusual, but also served as a reminder during a period of excessive consumption to minimise waste. Once the Christmas period was over, we ensured the material from both trees was recycled and used to create furniture.
“Working with Aberrant on the Christmas trees for South Kensington and Museum of Childhood was a fantastic experience – they combined fresh thinking and innovative techniques with a sensitivity to the heritage environments and the distinct natures of the two sites. At the Museum of Childhood, creating a structure that facilitated audience interventions encouraged active engagement among our younger visitors, while the beauty of the materials and quality of finish allowed the tree at South Kensington to hold the space of the Grand Dome.”
Philippa Simpson, V&A Director of Design, Estate and FuturePlan
V&A Museum & V&A Museum of Childhood, London