The opening of the V&A Dundee has been a “surreal” experience for the city’s leader, who first supported the plans to create the worldwide attraction on the waterfront when he was still at school.
Councillor John Alexander, 30, will welcome his fellow Dundonians and the wider pubic into Kengo Kuma’s inspired £80.1 million creation on the River Tay at the official opening this morning.
He recalled how as a school pupil at St Saviour’s High in Kirkton – one of the city’s less well-off areas – he took part in the public vote that would secure Mr Kuma’s design as the one that would transform the city.
Mr Alexander, who was elected as council leader in April last year, said: “If I am being honest, I keep having to pinch myself.
“It is quite surreal. I voted for this building as a secondary school pupil long before I got into politics.
“I can’t think of anything else like it, which you can play that civic role, vote for the design that you like and then stand in that building that has been delivered.
“It is phenomenal and I can’t really describe how excited I am that we have delivered a building of this scale and nature.”
The build-up to the opening peaked last night as the V&A took centre stage in a sound and light show that was staged as part of the 3D Festival, which will run over the weekend.
Last night Primal Scream headlined the sold-out celebration with a show in Slessor Gardens – a new public space created as part of the waterfront development – with a huge pedestrian zone created around the museum for the celebrations.
Dundee Council taxpayers have given £6.5m towards the museum, with a further £34m coming from the Scottish Government and £15m paid by private sponsors.
Creative Scotland, Dundee University, Abertay University and Scottish Enterprise have also financially backed the new landmark.
It is expected 500,000 people will visit the museum within its first year of opening, with the number dropping to 300,000 a year thereafter.
Around 50,000 people are expected to see the museum’s paid-for Ocean Liners: Speed and Style opening exhibition, a glorious tribute to those who built the vessels – many on the River Clyde – as well as the glamour of the ocean-going lifestyle.
Mr Alexander said: “The people of Dundee have paid towards the museum with £6.5m in council tax, so everyone is invested in this museum in one way or another and we need to make sure it is working for every single one of them.
“Sometimes there is a perception that museums are just for an arty type, but it is not the case here.
“We want to make sure that every single child and adult in this city comes here or at least is connected in some way to the culture that it offers.
“The material benefit that this museum has in enriching lives, breaking down barriers, in education, in economics… it is significant.
“I can think of no other single intervention where £80m was spent and was able to deliver this.
“The whole point of the V&A is to start to raise the bar, raise opportunities for people and raise prosperity in those areas of Dundee that have too much poverty.
“We don’t shy away from those issues. In fact, we use it as our motivation for change.” Mr Kuma has spoken of the V&A as a “living room for the city”, with the interior offering vast open space where people can sit, meet and spend time.
The interior walls are decked with wood giving a warm, pleasing feel. It sits in sharp contrast to the heavyweight exterior, which is said to be inspired by sea cliffs at Arbroath.
Mr Alexander said: “The sea change in opinion is phenomenal. I see it and I feel it and I speak to people on a daily basis about it, whether they are walking down the street or doing their shopping in Asda. People are genuinely excited to live in the city.
“Five to ten years ago, people would not have that sense of pride that they have now when they say ‘I am from Dundee’.
“Now they are going ‘V&A Dundee? That’s mine’.” The masterplan to develop the city’s waterfront – a mess of walkways, derelict land, concrete and car parks that kept the city centre apart from the river – has been ongoing for 20 years.
V&A Dundee was later added to the jigsaw, with the idea of the museum first floated in 2007 and planning permission granted in 2012.
Mr Kuma said the museum had the power to “change the city” for good.
He said: “When I first came here, the waterfront of Dundee was not so pleasant. It was dark and the city and the water were completely separated.
“This museum can change the city totally and this project can be a model for new development for cities facing water, like Toyko.
“Unfortunately Toyko waterfront is also not so pleasant. I would like to do something for Tokyo waterfront. This can be the model for that.”
Mr Kuma defended the design of the commercial buildings that are now springing up around the new museum.
The riverside landmark has become surrounded by new hotels and office blocks as part of the long-planned economic development, with some criticising the design.
Singer Chrissie Hynde, who played an outdoor gig in the shadow of the museum last week, described an office block that partially obscures the view of the museum as a “monstrosity”. But Mr Kuma said he understood the “constraints” of the building projects around the V&A.