Dundee the UK’s first Unesco ‘City of Design’

IT HAS given the world Desperate Dan and Grand Theft Auto, forging a reputation as a place of creativity and invention.
A statue of Desperate Dan in Dundee's city centre. Picture: Ian RutherfordA statue of Desperate Dan in Dundee's city centre. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A statue of Desperate Dan in Dundee's city centre. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Now, Dundee has followed in the footsteps of Berlin and Beijing by being named a Unesco City of Design.

It is the first time that the award, which recognises places with a “rich cultural landscape”, has been given to a British city.

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The culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, described it as a “richly deserved accolade” while Dundee’s civic leaders said it offered “truly international recognition” of the city’s distinguished track record in innovation.

The prestigious award by the United Nations agency will be seen as an endorsement of the city’s ambitious regeneration drive, decades after the collapse of heavy industry.

Dundee’s waterfront is undergoing a three decade-long £1 billion renewal, the flagship of which is the V&A Museum of Design.

While Dundee’s best-known cultural exports include comics such as the Beano and the Dandy, it has also played an important role in the evolution of the video game industry.


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Seminal game series such as Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings were developed by a city start-up, DMA Design, which later became Rockstar North, and the University of Abertay is at the cutting edge of games development.

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However, the decision by Unesco to recognise Dundee also took into account developments made in medicine and biomedical research in the city where Dr Thomas John MacLagan developed aspirin in 1876, while working as a medical superintendent at Dundee Royal Infirmary.

Bilbao in Spain, Curitiba in Brazil, Helsinki in Finland and Turin in Italy also received the recognition yesterday, joining previous recipients such as Beijing, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Montreal and Nagoya.

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The V&A Museum at the centre of Dundee’s waterfront development will become the home of Scotland’s design heritage to build on the Unesco title, the museum said. The city is also home to Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee Rep Theatre, McManus Art Gallery and Wasps Studios.

Ms Hyslop said: “This is a richly deserved accolade and further strengthens the city’s growing reputation as a hub of cultural and creative excellence and an international centre for the creative industries.”

Ken Guild, leader of Dundee City Council, said: “This is tremendous news and shows truly international recognition for Dundee’s innovative design sector. The city’s profile will receive a huge boost and I am certain it will lead to many opportunities. I look forward to seeing how we use this status to help take the city forward for the future.”

The city has a history of manufacturing jute and other textiles – and design courses are offered by both of Dundee’s universities.

Professor Nigel Seaton, principal of Abertay University, said: “The Unesco City of Design status is a major recognition of everything Dundee has achieved, from life-saving biosciences innovations to the design of comics and games – many created by Abertay graduates – and of what we can achieve in the future.”

Professor Pete Downes, principal of the University of Dundee, added: “We are delighted that Unesco has recognised the heritage and ambition of our city and we look forward to working with the international partners, building new links and strengthening old ones.”

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Janet Archer, CEO of Creative Scotland, said: “At Creative Scotland, we are already wholly aware of Dundee as a centre of design excellence and also as a hub for the arts, the creative industries and excellence in creative education. (This) huge accolade firmly positions Dundee on an international stage – alongside Edinburgh as Unesco City of Literature and Glasgow as Unesco City of Music.”


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