V&A outpost by Kengo Kuma – high cultural ambitions for the east coast town in Scotland
Since the Guggenheim effect in Bilbao, big museum brands have become recognised as great initiators for urban regeneration. Dundee in Scotland, on the edge of Europe, is the latest to adopt the strategy by opening an outpost of the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum and hiring Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to deliver an architectural experience that will transform the cityscape. The new museum sits on the waterfront – its angular form has been compared to a futuristic shipwreck.
Kuma is known for architectural designs that are inspired by the irregularity of nature. At the new V&A building in Dundee there are no straight lines, which creates an illusion of spatial movement in and around the building. Kuma is also inspired by old traditional building techniques of his native Japan, the use of wood and beautiful local materials. The façade of the new edifice is constructed with prefabricated concrete panels and the interior – with its use of wooden slabs in different sizes in the soaring entrance atrium – echoes the same irregularity in rhythms. The floor is covered with a dark stone, where white marks from fossilised seashells play as reference to the waterfront location. Beautiful materials and the effort of rejecting all structural monotony has come at a cost however. The budget famously doubled halfway through the project, with the final bill coming in at £80 million.
The concrete was a functional choice to protect from harsh climatic conditions, but it also fits aesthetically with the urban identity and resonates with the dark stone found in the cityscape extending beyond. The museum has been praised for the way in which it relates with the setting, despite its spectacular form, but nevertheless some criticism has been raised too. While Gehry’s design for Guggenheim was one of the very first architectural experiments with the help of digital programming, here the play with form relies equally on complex mathematical formulations.
Inside the sloping walls provide irregular openings and the atmosphere is warm. Kuma, who is the chosen architect of Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, aims to bring intimacy to the largest of developments. The exhibitions are drawn from the V&A collections, but in the Dundee outpost the focus is on Scotland’s design heritage, including 300 objects made in Scotland. One of the highlights is the reconstruction of the Oak Room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which was saved and stored after the original building was demolished and is now displayed in the museum. Aiming to restore civic pride and inspire creativity, the museum will no doubt become an enduring magnet for locals and tourists alike.