Brian Ferguson: V&A Dundee is an event space unlike anything else in the UK

Architect Kengo Kuma outside the finished exterior of the new eighty million pound V&A Dundee museum. Picture: PA Wire
Architect Kengo Kuma outside the finished exterior of the new eighty million pound V&A Dundee museum. Picture: PA Wire
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If the biggest controversy in the run-up to the unveiling of V&A Dundee was the decision to allow a half-built office block to loom over the city’s new museum then the biggest surprise on walking inside Kengo Kuma’s creation is how vast it appears.

The £80.1 million attraction has been winning plaudits ever since it began to take shape in the heart of the city’s waterfront.

Dundee's landmark V&A Museum of Design has been more than ten years in the planning with the �80m building set to open to the public on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

Dundee's landmark V&A Museum of Design has been more than ten years in the planning with the �80m building set to open to the public on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

But the real wow-factor in the building the Japanese architect spent eight years working on is likely to come once visitors cross its threshold.

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

The closest thing the main hall of V&A seems to resemble is a vast movie set - the king of thing Sean Connery or Roger Moore would be careering around in a James Bond film.

For many of those familiar with traditional museums and galleries in Edinburgh and Glasgow it is likely to feel almost futuristic - after dark it may even resemble a space station floating on water.

The interior of the V&A Dundee was unveiled today. Picture: Getty Images

The interior of the V&A Dundee was unveiled today. Picture: Getty Images

But it is not far-off worlds that can be glimpsed through its windows, but dramatic views of the Tay bridges and the Fife coastline.

Mr Kuma, whose design was based on the sea-cliffs found on the north-east coast of Scotland, said: “When I first visited the site it was still occupied by other buildings. The city and nature were completely separated. I thought they should be integrated and that relationship is at the core of our design. We’ve tried to connect a gate between the River Tay and the city.

“A museum in the 21st century should not just be for art-lovers. It should be a living room for the city for everybody to use.”

Dundee now has an event space unlike anything else in the UK - that has put the city on the global map before it has even opened its doors.

It is easy to imagine the main hall of V&A playing host to awards, fashion shows, television broadcasts and conferences that would previously have been well out of reach for the country, never mind the city.

Dundee has now a major venue for festivals and events to match anything that Edinburgh and Glasgow can offer, including space for major exhibitions.

Director Philip Long said: “V&A Dundee is a symbol of the city’s confidence. We’re very much looking forward to contributing to take this city’s fortunes forward.

“The most challenging thing about V&A Dundee has been the fantastic ambition of it. It is an extraordinary building by Kengo Kuma that is attracting interest from around the world, it’s a new institution with a new vision, and a new organisation that was set up to deliver it and was born in Dundee.

“When Mark Jones, the then director of the V&A, was invited to come to Dundee in 2007 he was inspired by the potential of the waterfront and the ambition of the city.”

City council leader John Alexander said the project put “fire in the belly of ordinary Dundonians that was not there ten years ago.”

He added: “For too long, Dundee was seen as the poor relation compared to some of our larger, neighbouring cities. That’s no longer the case. Dundee is now leading the charge in cultural-led regeneration. They now see this museum as theirs, as rightly they should.”

Dundee V&A’s exhibition-spaces will be all-important to realising expectations that it will attract more than 350,000 visitors every year.

The Scottish Design Galleries, which like the museum building are free-to-enter, are home to around 300 objects spanning more than 500 years creativity and innovation.

The resulting effect is of a treasure trove built around the glowing centrepiece of part of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh tea-room, built more than a century ago and re-assembled for the first time since being salvaged in the 1970s. For Glaswegians, it is almost worth the trip to Dundee just for the time-warp experience it will offer.

Some of the oldest objects are among the most fascinating, including an 18th century Jacobite garter, which was worn to express support for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

But visitors are likely to be equally drawn to the “l-limb” prosthetic hand designed by West Lothian firm Touch Bionics and the keyhole surgery instruments made in Dundee.

Costumes by Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Kane and Holly Fulton are among the star attractions, along with ground-breaking swim and cycle-wear.

John Byrne’s pop-up book created for John McGrath’s iconic play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil has pride of place alongside set designs created by Scottish designers Bunny Christie and Finn Ross for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Unsung heroes honoured include Dundee-born designer Ray Petri, who went on to work with magazines like The Face, i-D and Arena after emigrating to Australia as a teenager, and Glasgow-born David Band, who designed record covers for the likes of Altered Images, Aztec Camera and Spandau Ballet.

Other displays showcase Scottish comic book favourites Mark Millar, Alan Grant, Cam Kennedy and Grant Morrison, while Dennis the Menace makes an inevitable appearance in a 1960 comic strip from The Beano.

The space for temporary exhibitions is twice as big as the one dedicated to the Scottish design story. It will initially play host to a celebration to the world’s great ocean liners, a fitting curtain-raiser to the new era on Dundee’s waterfront.

The first visitors to V&A Dundee will be able see the largest remaining fragment of the Titanic, from the first-class lounge of the doomed vessel, as well as a diamond and pearl tiara saved from the Lusitania when it was sunk in a German U-boat attack off the Irish coast in the First World War, the luggage used by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson after he abdicated in 1936, and a Christian Dior suit worn by actress Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in New York on board the Queen Elizabeth in 1950.

Mr Long said: “It’s important to remember this is the first dedicated design museum in Scotland which has the largest museum-standard exhibition space in Scotland.

“We want this to be a place of inspiration, discovery and learning. The V&A has brought to it its expertise, collections and curatorial skills. Our displays of Scottish design history are made up substantially from the V&A’s superlative collections and a founding principle was to enable some of great V&A shows to be seen more widely in the UK.”

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A in London, added: “This cultural milestone for Dundee is also a landmark moment in the history of the V&A and an important opportunity for the UK to show the world how design can enrich lives.”