The director of the new V&A Dundee has said he is “especially proud” of the conservation and restoration of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s original Oak Room.
The Kengo Kuma-designed building will open on Saturday, the striking centrepiece of the continuing £1 billion regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront.
More than a decade after the idea of opening a V&A in Scotland’s fourth city was first discussed, director Philip Long spoke of the challenges – and the “thrill” – of setting up the design museum as it prepares to welcome the public.
The museum’s Scottish Design Galleries celebrate the influence of design at home and abroad, from Beano artwork to Hunter wellies and the Fair Isle jumper.
The jewel in the crown is Mackintosh’s Oak Room – the painstakingly reconstructed interior of part of Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms – which has been unseen for 50 years.
Mr Long, who came to the V&A Dundee from the National Galleries of Scotland, admits that laying his eyes on the exhibit for the first time was an emotional moment.
He said: “It’s one of his great, but lost to view, interiors that is now complete and in the museum.
“It brings back to public view after nearly 50 years – in fact it’s 70 years since it was used as a tea room – one of this great architect and designer’s works.
“I can tell you, it is a thrilling, quite emotional thing to walk in and see after all of these years.”
The interior is on long-term loan following discussions with Glasgow Museums several years ago.
Mr Long said: “The thing I’m especially proud of is the conservation and restoration of this original Mackintosh room.
“Mackintosh is, after all, one of the world’s greatest architects and designers and happens to be part of Scotland’s design heritage.
“When we set about developing the Scottish Design Galleries, one of the things we needed to ensure was to represent Mackintosh as part of the work we were doing.”
Museum bosses anticipate high volumes of visitors and entry over the opening weekend is reserved for those who have prebooked tickets.
Access is otherwise free and non-ticketed, with the exception of big touring exhibitions. The first, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, looks at the design and cultural impact of cruise ships and travel.
Mr Long said: “There have been lots of challenges along the way and I’m very pleased and proud that we’ve seen our way through those.
“The biggest challenge has been the magnitude of the project overall.
“V&A Dundee is not an outstation of the V&A in London. As one of the founding partners, V&A is a core part, but we here in Dundee are a new team that has come together to develop this project and lead it long into the future.”
The question has been asked why the V&A chose Dundee to set up home, but Mr Long suggests it was the city that chose the V&A. Representatives from the University of Dundee got the ball rolling in 2007, suggesting to the museum that it might like to be part of the waterfront regeneration.
Mr Long said: “Dundee really gets the importance of cultural facilities and activities as part of the life of its citizens. That’s been clear over the last 20 years through the investment in new organisations like Dundee Contemporary Arts, or whether it’s the ongoing success of places like Dundee Rep Theatre or the Science Centre or the redevelopment of the McManus.
“All of these things demonstrated to the leadership here that investment in culture is the right thing to do. All of that helped set the scene.”