Review: V&A Dundee
It’s taken what feels like a half a generation to reach completion and its opening was marked by the biggest celebration that Dundee could recall. The V&A finally threw open its doors to the first of 200 media visitors eager to hear from those behind this £80.1m nautical-inspired structure that has given the city a new landmark to rank, surely, alongside the finest that Scotland possesses.
But does it live up to expectations? The interior, kept a closely-guarded secret until now, is a vast open space, with some comparing it perhaps a little disparagingly an airport or shopping mall. Others say it provides a suitably eye-popping welcome, inviting the visitor to gaze upwards along a staircase which climbs up the side of the building towards the exhibits.
It is light and acoustically pleasing. There are activity rooms to encourage engagement. The two exhibitions currently in place include the reassembled Oak Room, an interior designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1907, which originally stood within Glasgow’s Ingram Street Tearooms. It forms the focus of the Scottish Design rooms which include dresses donated by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Christoper Kane, and more humdrum objects such as Hunter wellington boots, marking Edinburgh’s association with the rubber industry.
Those who saw the V&A Dundee’s opening temporary exhibition, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style when it was shown in London say it looks even better here. It pays homage to Scotland’s links to building some of the great ships and there are some mighty pieces from some of the palaces that sailed the seas in the pre-war years.
There are more than 600 objects in the galleries, yet it feels like there could be more to fill the space created and to keep its 350,000 anticipated annual visitors fully satisfied.
Ultimately, the building itself is the chief exhibit. Kengo Kuma’s complex structure has won worldwide plaudits, not only for its striking design, but for its contribution to a £1 billion plan to regenerate the city’s long-neglected waterfront.
Aside from the permanently-moored RRS Discovery, the ship that took Scott and Shackleton to the Arctic, there has been little to invite residents or visitors alike to enjoy the undoubted grandeur of the Tay. The V&A does that, though already it is in danger of being hidden from the city by two uninspiring hotels now under construction on the opposite side of a busy thoroughfare which still acts as a barrier to the river.
John Alexander, leader of the city council, said residents had asked what difference the V&A Dundee would make to them and their city. “I say it is already making a difference,” he said.
What he and all those involved in this grand design must consider is how they use this once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the city and, specifically its waterfront.
The V&A Dundee is a clear winner, but cannot be expected to carry the city’s hopes of fulfilling its current billing as a must-visit destination.
There is talk of a conference centre, to cash in on business tourism, and of a concert and opera house to complement and complete the cultural quarter. Given the time it took to get this far such an outcome could take another 10 years.
On the evidence so far, the grand plan needs some attention before the waterfront turns into a dismal hotch-potch of mediocre apartments and budget hotels that will not be fitting company for their new neighbour.