Dundee hopes V&A’s spectacular museum will reconnect the city to its creative past

The new centre should restore the cultural reputation of the city once famed for jute, jam and journalism

V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, has already begun its work of healing and redemption. As the Glasgow School of Art was consumed by flames in June, the final touches were applied to another Charles Rennie Mackintosh jewel.

The designer’s tearoom had stood in Glasgow until 50 years ago, when it was forced to make way for other uses. A city council employee intervened to ensure that every item and fitting in the tearoom was saved and recorded for when its splendour might be seen once more.

That day dawns in September when the V&A Dundee opens and the world will see Mackintosh’s lost masterpiece for the first time in 50 years, as well as a world-class collection of art and artefacts.

It marks the end of an eight-year undertaking that saw Dundee embark on one of the most important cultural projects Scotland has known. The spectacular new museum has been built on the city’s waterfront, the first to bear the imprint of the V&A outside London. Its Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, has said he wanted to “create a new living room for the city.”

Many people in Dundee hope the museum will be able to reconnect the city to its creative past. For years, Dundee has been a punchline to old jokes, with significant social problems. But in the city on Saturday the talk was about hopes and dreams for the future and the role that the V&A might play.

The writer and author Lorraine Wilson feels that the V&A has already begun to cast its spell. “I’ve spent a lot of my adult life living and working away from Dundee and had to put on a brave face when people began to disparage my city,” she said. “Inside, I was hurting because if people only knew about what this city has produced in its past, they wouldn’t be saying these things.”

Gordon Douglas, a professional musician, is also optimistic about what the V&A can bring. “At the beginning there was the inevitable response that the money would be better spent elsewhere,” he said. “But such views began to fade when the building took shape and they could see that this was something they could be proud of.”

Dundee is the city of Captain Scott’s Discovery, which is berthed alongside the V&A. The Tay rail bridge, the gateway to Dundee, is one of the world’s finest and most eyecatching feats of engineering. Design and creativity are in the DNA of this city, from its comic-book heroes, its textiles, its newspapers.

The story of how Dundee came to be the location for the first V&A museum outside of London is at once uplifting and dramatic.

Mike Galloway is director of planning at Dundee city council and the last remaining member of the original steering group, which met for the first time 10 years ago. He has been driving the project ever since.

“I’ve worked on the redevelopment of the London Docklands, Manchester city centre and Gorbals in my native Glasgow. Redeveloping Dundee’s waterfront really got under my skin, though, and I’ve been here for the last 20 years,” he said.

“A group of us met for lunch at the residence of the principal of Dundee University. This had come about because of the close ties between Dundee University and the V&A. We had a masterplan for the waterfront but felt we needed a spark.

“We didn’t know what that spark would be but we would know it when we saw it.

“A plan involving a museum of design began to take shape, and the V&A saw something in it they liked and wanted to be a part of. They offered us their brand and free use of their touring collections and became partners along with the council, Dundee University, Abertay University and Scottish Enterprise.”

He is confident that the new museum will bring jobs and inward investment. “At the outset we wanted the hotel groups and the contractors to agree to hire locally and to pay the real living wage. There was some initial resistance to this but everyone has now signed up and seen the benefits of doing this,” he said.

The new museum looks striking enough from afar but it’s only when you get close up that you see Kuma’s real genius. Families will be welcomed here all day and every day and know that they will not be required to spend money as well as their time.

When you see its folds and crevices, which will change with the seasons, it becomes clear that he has created a living thing and something that will travel with time – not be wearied by it.

The Scottish Design Galleries will be the heart of V&A Dundee and will include 300 objects representing a wide range of design disciplines, from the decorative arts to fashion, architecture, engineering and digital design.

The Playfair Book of Hours, the oldest object in the Scottish Design Galleries, was made in Rouen in northern France in about 1480.

A gown worn by Natalie Portman, right, as Padmé Amidala in a scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones will be among the exhibits.

A Jacobite garter dating from about 1745 is enscribed “Our Prince is brave our cause is just’. In the 18th century, garters were expressions of political allegiance.

Also on display will be a Snap40 wearable device that uses artificial intelligence to monitor a hospital patient’s vital signs, alerting doctors and nurses if there’s a problem.

A throne chair made of wood with gilt brass and gilt gesso was designed by Robert Home, son of an eminent army surgeon.


Kevin McKenna

The GuardianTramp

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