In 2018, Scotland will have a new landmark. Not a rugged castle, imposing tenement or brooding standing stone – landmarks often associated with this country – but a museum like no other.
Perched on the banks of the River Tay will stand two colossal upside-down pyramids, wrapped with bands of stone and deep shadow. This new structure is the V&A Museum of Design Dundee, an outstanding piece of architectural innovation and structural ingenuity. The 8,000sq m building is the result of an international design competition that returned over 140 entries from architects from all over the world who turned their eyes to the unique challenges that such a project in the city of Dundee provided.
It is Kengo Kuma’s first building in the UK but his architectural practice is already responsible for some of the most beautiful, yet modest, buildings of this century.
Kuma’s architecture is far removed from the traditional hi-tech architecture that characterised the latter years of the 20th century and still continues in some form today.
V&A Dundee hides its shell – a 300mm thick, curving concrete wall comprising 21 sections. Standing inside the building under construction, there is a similarity to the hull of a submarine out of water; the vast curves of dark concrete sinuously stretching and twisting behind the more regular elements of the building’s two central cores.
The building has a massive scale that belies its remarkably humble purpose – to enrich people’s lives through design. This is a building for individual people to come together in shared inspiration and wonder at the everyday transformative power of design.
The museum takes this monumental appearance not from a ship, as it is so commonly likened to, but from the native cliffs that extend along Scotland’s north east coast. Kuma’s geological inspiration roots the building in its setting, while referencing the aims of the waterfront project – a link between the land and sea.
The architect’s vision of a “living room for the city” is reflected in the natural materials, from the fine exterior lines of angular stone to a warming embrace of oak and rich limestone inside. This use of natural materials is characteristic of Kuma’s work, with an emphasis on how a building can complement and reflect the landscape, rather than contrast with it.
His skill is such that even with the most rugged of materials, such as concrete and stone, he turns them to become almost weightless – the four-metre cast stone panels hanging from the outside of V&A Dundee’s walls each weigh up to three tonnes, yet will lie delicately against the building’s structure, almost floating.
Currently, the building’s overall form remains a mystery to many, with those who see it from their car or walking past the site unable to make out the shape behind the temporary red and yellow support structure that envelops the external walls.
The site also magnifies the building’s size – when complete, the removal of the hoardings and infrastructure necessary for a construction project of this scale will allow the building to shrink back and the city to reach towards it, through new public spaces, planting and reflecting water pools that further connect the building to its location.
This is all happening at a time when Scotland is engaged in some truly incredible engineering feats: the new Queensferry Crossing and, just a short distance to the north west, two huge steel hulks are gradually being transformed into the next generation of aircraft carriers – the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy.
One feels an immense sense of pride that architecture of this calibre is coming to Dundee, excitement at the vision of the city’s bright future.
V&A Dundee is an incredible building which will be home to inspiring collections and exhibitions, from its international touring shows to learning activities in our Michelin Design Gallery. We look forward to welcoming visitors to see it for themselves in 2018.
Peter Nurick is Communities Producer at V&A Dundee. Find out more at www.vandadundee.org