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Issue 64 - That old Bilbao Moon

Scotland Magazine Issue 64
August 2012


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That old Bilbao Moon

Roddy looks at the revival of the waterfront

When Sandy Richardson, the development director, invited me for a coffee to talk about the lottery funded £45 million Victoria & Albert project in Dundee, I inevitably found myself reflecting upon the impact of the Guggenheim Museum on Bilbao in Spain. Another metropolitan sea port which, despite the romantic associations of its name, was not exactly famed for its aesthetic appearance, Bilbao and its waterfront have thrived since the Guggenheim's arrival in 1997.

Could a futuristic vision of an aircraft carrier made up of shimmering silver slivers, the concept of the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma & Associates, working in partnership with Scottish practice Cre8architecture, create a similar impact on Dundee? I definitely think so.

Although not scheduled for completion until 2015, the V&A's 6230 square metres, which will include gallery and exhibition spaces, working and design in action spaces, offices and social areas, will without question make a dramatic impact on the future of Scotland's fourth largest city, if nothing else by its appearance alone.

That is not to say that Dundee has had nothing to offer in the past.

The problem has always been that despite a rich hinterland of thriving creativity, as personified by the prolific production of comic books and design, it has more often than not been upstaged as a strategic east coast destination by Edinburgh to the south and Aberdeen to the north.

That situation is unlikely to change in the immediate future, but now at least there is going to be something truly spectacular to offer in response.

It is all about being ahead of the game.

There was a time when Dundee was famous internationally for Jute, Jam and Journalism, but as those traditional industries slipped into decline, there emerged a raft of biotechnology and video games to revitalise the city's industrial parkland.

After leaving school, I briefly contemplated enrolling at Dundee's prestigious Duncan of Jordanstoun College of Art and Design before being seduced by journalism. During the 1990s, I did some copy writing work for one of the local public relations companies and was genuinely impressed by the diversity of its client list.

Designated the “City of Discovery” after the return of the Atlantic explorer Robert Falcon Scott's ship RRS Discovery to a purpose-built waterfront dry dock in 1997, Dundee's spirit of adventure should never be underestimated. The regeneration of the waterfront, with its landscaping features, the V&A Museum, and £14 million railway station, hotel and office buildings, is part of a bigger picture.

So what apart from its reputation makes the V&A Museum so special? Both Edinburgh, with its spectacular refurbishment of the National Museum of Scotland, and Glasgow, with its reconstituted Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, have shown how such cathedrals of culture can not only revitalise and inspire a local community, but become magnets for an international audience.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London houses the world's largest collection of decorative arts and design comprising a permanent collection of more than 4.5 million objects.

While Scotland's design heritage is displayed as part of existing museum strategies throughout the country, nowhere has there previously been the concentrated focus that it merits. By working in partnership, it is envisaged that the V&A at Dundee will provide, for the first time, a dedicated space for the exploration and understanding of design. It will also serve as a catalyst for creative projects and inititatives throughout Scotland.

Until 2011, the V&A's director was Sir Mark Jones, a former director of the National Museums of Scotland.

A shy but quietly determined individual, I suspect that he will have played no insignificant role in the sanctioning of the V&A's Dundee outreach project.

We shall have to wait for another two and a half years for its final completion, but having seen the working images, I defy anyone not to be impressed by the scope of the project.

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