V&A Unveils Scottish Museum
Riverfront attraction honors Dundee’s design legacy
BY GINA DECAPRIO VERCESI — Winter 2019
n 1844, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sailed into Dundee en route to the Scottish Highlands. To commemorate their visit, the city — a nexus at the time for shipbuilding and international trade — erected an elaborate Royal Arch on the harborside in 1853. A symbol of Victorian-era ambition, the iconic structure towered over Dundee’s waterfront for more than 100 years before its 1964 removal marked Dundee’s lapse into postindustrial decline.
Now a new landmark — a shiny beacon of urban rejuvenation that once again nods to the culturally minded monarchs — opened in September on the banks of the River Tay: The V&A Dundee — the first Victoria & Albert museum outside of London — finally reunites Dundonians with their river.
Composed of two inverted pyramids that converge on the upper level, the 90,900-square-foot museum frames a view of the Tay, jutting out over its waters like the prow of a ship, a design that evokes both the Royal Arch and Dundee’s maritime heritage. “Dundee was built on trade and the river played a vital role,” says Kengo Kuma, the museum’s designer. “The building acts like a gate through which the city can once again access the world.”
While design has been woven into Dundee’s fabric for centuries, from textiles and shipbuilding to newspapers, video games, and biotechnology, Scotland maintains its own vibrant, creative legacy. V&A Dundee’s permanent collection, within the Scottish Design Galleries, celebrates that legacy, investigating design’s role in our lives through pieces that include Jacobite embroidery, Fife linoleum, and an Alexander McQueen dress. The museum’s crowning achievement is the painstakingly restored and reconstructed Oak Room, the interior Charles Rennie MacKintosh designed in 1907 for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms in Glasgow. The museum also features a rotating series of notable exhibitions, the first of which, “Ocean Liners: Speed and Style,” delivers visitors into ocean travel’s golden-age glamour and runs through Feb. 24.
V&A Dundee’s role extends beyond immersing visitors into the world of design, igniting a renewed sense of pride among Dundonians whose city has long been regarded as Scotland’s black sheep. Kuma envisioned a welcoming space that encourages relaxation and conversation. His concept flows throughout the V&A Dundee, and the Tayside icon promises to steam contemporary Dundee ahead on its journey toward revitalization. vam.ac.uk/dundee
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