Wraps come off Japanese architect's V&A Museum for Dundee

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It has already been 10 years in the planning and has been no stranger to controversy, delays and budget problems.

But the wraps have finally come off Scotland’s newest landmark, Dundee’s V&A Museum of Design, as its Japanese architect visited the city to see the structure days after it was completed.

Seven years after being appointed to mastermind the centrepiece project of the city’s £1 billion waterfront regeneration, Kengo Kuma finally saw his vision realised on the banks of the River Tay.

After being given a tour of the construction site of the £80.11 million building, which is now being fitted out ahead of its much-anticipated opening next summer, Kuma told of his hopes that it will become a “living room” for the city and a new “community centre.”

His striking design, which has been compared to an upturned ship, is said to have been inspired by the cliff-faces that Kuma, who is working on Tokyo’s stadium for the 2020 Olympics, found further up the east coast, in Arbroath.

The cost of the project has almost doubled since his design won a £45 million international competition and its scheduled opening next summer is four years later than originally envisaged. But Kuma insisted Dundee is well on its way to getting a unique building that would create “a new type of harmony between nature and landscape.”

A temporary cofferdam which has allowed his museum to “jut out” into the Tay, has recently been removed, while pools have created around the building to make it look as if it is floating. Around 2500 cast stone panels have been hung onto the exterior walls of the museum to try to replicate the sea cliffs Kuma saw when he was bidding to win the competition.

Kuma said: “We always try to create harmony with nature in our projects. However this location is very unique, because it is right between the water and the land, so we’re tried to create a special harmony between two things.

“The design was very much inspired by the beauty and strength of the cliffs that I saw. We’ve tried to translate that into the building.

“A normal museum is basically a bit like a box, but we’ve tried to create a new type of museum inspired by the beauty and topography of those cliffs. It’s a unique shape which has come out of a collaboration between us and nature, to create a new type of harmony between nature and landscape. In a sense, the building is like a bridge between the River Tay and the city.

“When I crossed this morning and I saw the building and the water together I thought it was magical. I was really impressed at the effect it had.”

Kuma was on site to witness the start of work on the museum in March 2015, weeks after it had to be bailed out by a string of public funders to ensure the project went ahead.

Since then a new network of roads and a public park, Slessor Gardens, have been created in the waterfront area dominated by the museum, which is connected to the city centre via Union Street, and a new railway station for the city, which is due to open in March, months before V&A Dundee is unveiled to the public.

It is hoped that Kuma’s building, which rises up to 60 feet tall, will help bolster Dundee’s bid to be crowned a European Capital of Culture in 2023. It is competing with Leeds, Nottingham, Belfast and Milton Keynes for the title, with a winner due to be announced after the Dundee attraction opens next summer.

Making his first visit to the site for more than a year and a half, the architect added: “I think a 21st century museum should be a living space for the whole community.

“In the 20th century, museums were really for art, but now people want to use them as their own living rooms and the public space around them as their own garden. The intention behind our design is to create those kind of spaces for the community in Dundee.

“We’ve tried to link the end of Union Street with the main hall of the museum. The intention is for people to come in to the museum and enjoy these spaces as if it is their own living room.”

Meanwhile the inside of Dundee’s new museum is to be kept firmly under wraps until the attraction open to the public.

Project leaders are determined to keep their powder dry for as long as possible despite huge anticipation in the city and further beyond about the city’s flagship new attraction.

Two of the four galleries will be devoted to telling “the story of Scotland’s outstanding design heritage.” The remaining exhibition space will be devoted to a rolling programme of shows drawn from the V&A’s archives in London and collections further afield.

V&A Dundee director Philip Long said: “We want to share our opening date as soon as we can. A lot of aspects need to come together to give us absolute confidence about opening and we also need to look at the best time to open. We’ll be keeping our powder dry on the inside of the museum till then.

“When we talk about our opening programme we want to talk about what people will see then, but also beyond our opening exhibitions. They will come from a combination of sources. Some shows generated by V&A which are currently showing London and go around the world will come here in future. We’ll be developing our exhibitions and we’re also in discussion with other international institutions about developing exhibitions to come here.“

Mike Galloway, city development director at Dundee City Council, said: “With the completion of the external works, including all of the cladding, glazing and roof structures, the main contractors, BAM, are due to finish the first fit-out of the building in January.

“We’re within the revised budget that we started on site with and I’m confident that we’ll deliver within that budget. The building is essentially there. It’s now about putting the finishing touches that bring it alive as a building and provide a fantastic museum experience for people.

“The first chance people will really get to see inside will be the public opening. We’re really trying to avoid any images of the inside of the building leaking out, as we don’t want to dilute the astonishing reveal.”