Essential Macau | The V&A Dundee is Scotland’s first design museum

The V&A Dundee - the first V&A outside of London - has been unveiled in Scotland’s fourth largest city.

Trumpeted as Scotland’s first design museum, the €90 million building houses a permanent new Scottish Design Gallery and a space for temporary exhibitions.

The aim of the new gallery is to trace the history of Scottish design over the past 600 years and coincides with the publication of the book ‘The Story of Scottish Design’ written by Philip Long and Joanna Norman which acknowledges over 5,000 years of Scottish design history.

The V&A’s London director Tristram Hunt also points out the museum’s important historical connection to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – after whom the V&A is named — thanks to the queen’s love of Scotland. The couple bought a Highland castle at Balmoral.

In 1844 the queen and consort paid a royal visit to Dundee during one of their early trips to the Highlands and it is in the 19th century that the reasons can be found as to why the museum itself has opted to not provide a full history of Scottish design.

The building itself has light-filled interiors designed by the acclaimed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and is the first V&A affiliate outside of the English capital.

The architect says he was inspired by the cliffs on Scotland’s north-eastern coastline. The effect was achieved by cladding the building in lines of pre-cast reconstituted stone panels that run horizontally around the curving concrete walls.

The 2,466 stone panels, which were made in moulds, weigh up to 3,000 kg each and span up to 4 m.

The museum was built out onto the River Tay, with a “prow” jutting over the water like a boat, recalling the shipbuilding heritage of the city.

Philip Long, the director of the V&A Dundee, says the city chose the V&A, and not the other way around. “There was no competition, bidding process or shortlist,” he says. “The process that led to the decision was much more organic than that.”

The V&A already had a close relationship with the University of Dundee because of the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design with which it is linked.

Dundee was embarking on a major 30-year development of its waterfront and the V&A was looking for ways to connect across to the UK.

It has inevitably drawn comparisons to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and it prompted Lonely Planet to make Dundee one of its top European destinations to visit this summer.

At the centre of the galleries stands the magnificent Charles Rennie Mackintosh Oak Room meticulously restored, conserved and reconstructed through a partnership between the V&A Dundee, Glasgow Museums and Dundee City Council.

Visitors to the museum will be able to once again experience Mackintosh’s extraordinary talent in designing this room, lost to view for nearly 50 years.

The museum’s first international exhibition is ‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’ organised by the V&A and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts and the first to explore the design and cultural impact of the ocean liner on an international scale.

Since opening, over 100,000 visitors have passed through the new museum’s doors and is expected to attract 500,000 visitors in its first year.

Local businesses in Dundee, however and less than impressed and say they have been disappointed by its effect to drum up trade. Nevertheless, the city council says it is optimistic about a growing momentum brought about as a result of the new museum and the overall city’s waterfront regeneration project of which it forms part.

Paul Jennings, executive director of the Dundee Heritage Trust says, “We really are seeing a marked effect since the V&A opened” while Lynne Short, Dundee City Council’s City development convener has urged business to “remain patient and capitalise on new opportunities as they arise.”

The UK band Primal Scream headlined the 3D Festival by the museum on its opening night to officially mark its launch. The band was joined on the bill by singer-songwriters Lewis Capaldi and Tallia Storm and Dundee’s own Be Charlotte.

About 2000 local children and community group representatives visited the museum on the opening day as well as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who described the museum as “world class” and said she was “overawed” after touring it.

“This museum puts Dundee on the cultural map of the world and people will come from all over the world to see the V&A here” she added.

V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries’ 300 objects include a 15th Century book of illuminated manuscripts and a Jacobite garter.

The galleries also include furniture, textiles, fashion, architecture, engineering and digital design and are based on the upper floor or the museum.

The original V&A has stood in South Kensington for more than 150 years and is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design.