Scaling the Cliffs of Angus
NOW THAT the scaffolding has been removed from the exterior walls of the £ 80m V&A in Dundee, one can at last see how huge the building is. And although, when the pre-cast cladding is added to create the architect's inspiration – the cliffs of Angus – the visual appearance of the museum will be diminished, it will nevertheless remain hard to fill and maintain compared to all the other museums in the city.
To solve this problem, it will be home to a multitude of objects currently housed in London as well as, apparently, having a display devoted to Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Given that most of his work was in the west of Scotland, apart from that in Northampton and London, this seems a bit of a surprise. But perhaps the curators know that there is reputed to be a Mackintosh-designed fireplace in Brechin! (But they probably don't.)
The decision to commission an iconic building by Kengo Kuma, instead of (possibly) adapting a 19th century shipbuilding shed nearby (later converted for Borders, and now a Marks & Spencer food hall) was predicated on the belief that V&A in Dundee will attract visitors from all over Scotland as well as farther afield.
The same assumption was made about Dundee Contemporary Arts when it opened in 1999, but it has never quite fulfilled that promise. And, given this assumption, a number of new hotels have opened in Dundee, with one being currently built above Dundee's new railway station and, also close to the museum, the Harbour Master's House being in line for conversion into Apex's second hotel in the city. If the museum's promise is not fulfilled, there will be a surfeit of hotel beds in Dundee.
There is, in the provision of the museum and the new hotels, a gamble based on the belief that Dundee can become a new tourist hub, i.e. that instead of being a place that tourists come to visit, it will become a centre from which they will enjoy easy access to the golf courses and historic buildings of Fife, the glens of Angus etc, This will require an enormous change to the way Dundee is perceived today.
One thing, however, is certain: the enormous scale of both the new museum and station reflects the grandeur of creating a Classical city as conceived by James Thomson, the City Architect, when he built the Caird Hall and the City Chambers from 1914-23.
Once the new buildings are completed, and another added to replace the demolished hotel adjacent to the road bridge, Dundee will gain a centre with a clear identity. Perhaps that will draw the finance necessary to reconsider developments along the riverside which, with Tesco's shed and the new, visually mediocre block of flats, fails to make the most of the banks of the River Tay