Victoria and Albert – Dundee

Dundee was our last visit in Scotland before heading South. The Design Museum on the waterfront was our destination. Having visited the Similar regeneration culture centres at Bilbao and Wakefield in recent years this looked a good opportunity for a comparison – more later.

Kano Kuma, Dundee, V&A
Victoria & Albert Museum, 2018, Kango Kuma, Dundee

The Victoria and Albert’s Scottish outpost is based in a gorgeous building by the Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, inspired by the cliffs of North East Scotland. The inverted pyramid design of solid concrete is adorned with horizontal interlocking concrete leaves. It maybe inspired by cliffs or pyramids but believe me, on the side of the great River Tay it evokes ships and shipbuilding, especially nestling up next to Scott and Shackleton’s Endeavour

V&A, Dundee, kango kuma
Victoria & Albert Museum, Kango Kuma, 2018, interior general view

The idea of interlocking leaves is repeated in the atrium, decorated with wooden slats which are occasionally and randomly open reminding the viewer of the piano roll used in automating music. It is in the atrium that the flaws in the architecture start to reveal themselves however; a terrific space, but employed nearly completely by empty volume ; an entrance desk, a few chairs, and the entrance to the staircase  leading to the galleries. It is difficult to envisage how this huge volume can be used for any other purpose than celebrating the building and the architect. The contents remain secondary being tucked away in the first floor space like store rooms. 

Dundee, V&A, Scottish Design Gallery
The History of Scottish Design Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Dundee

The gallery of Scottish Design is the best, celebrating all that is great in its history. And there are some greats in Scottish design history from shipbuilding, fabrics, metalworks to the perfect sphere of the Dounreay nuclear reactor building. A special celebration of Dundonian history lies in the exhibits of computer games and of course, the celebrated Beano, started in Dundee in 1938, and the foundation stone of a good university education in the 1970s.

Mackintosh, Dundee, Oak Room, V&A
James Rennie Mackintosh, The Oak Room, 1907, Victoria and Albert Museum, Dundee

The Oak Room. Pride of place however goes to Charles Rennie MacKintosh’s Oak Room. Built in 1907 as part of the Ingram Street Tea Room in Glasgow, and saved from destruction in a 1971 rebuilding programme. This is a masterpiece of Mackintosh’s understanding of the unity of architecture and space. There are echoes in Kuma’s use of horizontal overlapping strips of material, but here the unity is superbly balanced with the rest of the space; the pillars, the lighting and the proportions of the upper mezzanine floor. If you only ever see one piece of Charles Mackintosh’s masterpieces, take time out to visit Dundee and see the Oak Room.

I must confess that having been delighted by the Gallery of Scottish Design the remaining rooms paled into insignificance. Like the ambiguity of the architecture and its juxtaposition between the historical and the contemporary, the ideas disappoint magnificently.

Mary Quant, V&A, Dundee, fashion
Mary Quant Exhibition 2020, Victoria & Albert Museum, Dundee.

Mary Quant. To be fair though… there looked to be a wonderful exhibition of the works of the great icon, Mary Quant, which was oversubscribed and we could not sweet talk our way in – the blog needs a bigger following and more influence, I suspect!

For ease of access, the comparison with Bilbao and Wakefield places it streets ahead with the railway station, motorway and car parking on the doorstep. The Gallery of Scottish Design is a great show but for the rest; the unity, the balance and keeping a high level of interest, there is much still to do though

Dundee, railway station, victoria and Albert
Dundee Rail Station, Nichols Russell Studios, 2018, Eastern facade

4 Comments Add yours

  1. David Roddis says:

    What a stunning piece of architecture! I almost thought it was going to be another playful Gehry, but one look and it’s unmistakably Japanese in inspiration, in the way it pays homage to its environment. Kudos to the V&A and thanks for your informative piece!


    1. I am glad you like it. The building fits in its place on the Tay perfectly, but I think there is work needed to improve the interior display. By the way kudos also to the University of Dundee for their foresight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. David Roddis says:

        After I posted, I was reminded of the similar problems of wasted interior space posed by the interesting, even exciting, but not extremely successful addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, here in Toronto. The architect was Daniel Libeskind, and the cluster of triangular/crystalline shapes that seem to erupt out of the Romanesque Revival original guarantees lost corners and odd angles where the dinosaur skeletons seem to hunch over to fit and dust bunnies collect.


      2. Having never been to Toronto (yet) I cannot comment although the museum displays do look wonderful. As a firm favourite of the Romanesque I find the concept of the crashing of steel and glass into the original a little difficult on the eye!

        Liked by 1 person

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