Leader comment: Dundee cannot rest on the laurels for the V&A

The new V&A design museum has had a transformational effect on Dundee and has fueled plans for a new opera house and concert hall. Picture: John Devlin
The new V&A design museum has had a transformational effect on Dundee and has fueled plans for a new opera house and concert hall. Picture: John Devlin
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Dundee city council’s plan to investigate building a concert hall and conference centre to contemplate the V&A design museum is to be applauded.

Dundee could have rested on its laurels, taken the plaudits from across the world and congratulated itself on a job well done.

The new V&A building, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, has already proved to be a triumph when viewed from the outside and now it appears it does not disappoint the inside.

Indeed, according to The Scotsman’s Duncan Macmillan, this “spectacular” museum is even more so when seen from within its walls, while the actual exhibits contain much “to inform, intrigue and delight” from 500 years of Scottish history. Surely it is not premature to suggest Kuma, at the very least, deserves to be given the Freedom of the City of Dundee; honorary knighthoods have been handed out for less.

But amid the fulsome praise, Dundee is working to make the city even more attractive as a place to live, work and visit.

As The Scotsman reveals exclusively today, the council is looking into building a multi-million-pound concert hall, opera house and conference centre on its waterfront – a venture that Kuma has already said he would be “very interested” in.

READ MORE: First look inside new V&A Dundee ahead of public opening

Dundee council leader John Alexander spoke of the “momentum that we have gathered as a result of the V&A” and the need to continue that “long into the future”. “We’re absolutely committed to making sure that’s not the case. We’re working actively on proposals at the moment,” he added.

And there is no doubt that further change is needed, with some of the buildings that surround the design museum falling significantly short of the quality of its design.

There is always the risk that things could go awry; success can breed arrogance and big plans usually come with commensurately sized risks. However, such fears cannot be allowed to stand in the way of further progress in the transformation of a city that Alexander himself previously admitted was sometimes seen as the “punchline at the end of a joke” and the “poorer relation” of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

It has already left such comparisons behind. In October last year, the city found itself in the company of Shanghai, Madagascar and Montenegro in a list of ten “hot destinations” to visit this year, drawn up by The Wall Street Journal. GQ Magazine has also named it Britain’s “coolest little city”, while the Lonely Planet guide chose Dundee as one of its top ten places to visit in Europe.

By their nature, these are fickle sources of praise. Next year’s lists are almost certain to be different as the heat currently being generated by Dundee begins to cool.

READ MORE: Philip Long: The V&A is a place to inspire people

But, done well, a new concert hall and conference centre would provide a second wave of interest of a different kind. The V&A has helped bring the city to national and global attention – and that will include opera divas and rock stars. And when deciding where to hold a conference, the chance to visit an acclaimed museum and take in a show would no doubt be a significant selling point.

So Alexander and co should now press ahead and ensure that Dundee’s redevelopment continues apace. While resisting the temptation to get carried away, it is a time to be bold, to seize the day and make the city the best that it can be.

A cultural “cringe” is often bemoaned as a characteristic of Scots that has long held us back and Dundee has exemplified this trait more than most.

But, with help from a wonderful architect from the other side of the world, the city appears to have rediscovered a sense of confidence, one that it perhaps last had in the days of jute, jam and journalism.

So, as the V&A prepares to open its doors, it’s good to learn that Dundee’s not done yet.