V&A Dundee: Everything you need to know about the architectural icon sparking Dundee’s 21st century renaissance

If you want to understand the impact the V&A has had on Dundee then all you need to do is think about how the waterfront looked when plans for the museum were first announced in 2007.

Back then, our central waterfront area was dominated by buildings that could, if you were feeling particularly charitable, best be described as functional.

How Dundee waterfront was laid out before the transformation project got under way.

There was the Hilton Hotel, a boxy tribute to beige, next to a casino and the Olympia Leisure Centre, whose three flumes at least added some colour to the view as your approached Dundee from Fife.

Then, lurking in the background like a nagging headache, was Tayside House, a thudding black monolith connected to the Olympia via an ugly and draughty walkway.

The main swimming pool in Dundee was knocked down and a new one built further inland to make way for a dramatic new waterfront layout.

The RRS Discovery stood out, of course, but then the old ship has had some useful experience in unwelcoming environments.

As a result, when Dundee University announced plans to create a bespoke museum of design on the waterfront, working in conjunction with the world-renowned V&A in London, it seemed like a bold wheeze but also attracted plenty of scepticism.

Then and now: Move slider to see how our waterfront is changing

An early feasibility study said there was the potential to bring thousands of visitors to Dundee but warned of a pressing need to improve transport links if the project – originally intended to open in 2014 – was to be viable.

Meanwhile, public and private money would be needed to finance the £45 million project.

Yet those behind the bid continued to press on, launching an international contest to design the museum.

When the shortlisted six designs were put on public display in 2010, what had seemed fanciful suddenly became tangible.

The original shortlisted designs


Thousands of people visited the exhibition of the designs at Abertay University library and the entire city of Dundee suddenly became briefly obsessed with architecture.

It was Japanese architect Kengo Kuma whose design – inspired by nearby cliffs – impressed the judges most. It turned out to be a prescient choice given how Kuma’s reputation and global standing has increased since then.

V&A Dundee independent chair Lesley Knox, then V&A London director Sir Mark Jones and Dundee executive director of city development Mike Galloway with the winning design by Kengo Kuma.

His vision was for a building that reconnects Dundee with its natural environment, particularly the River Tay.

The next few years were spent clearing the site as the Hilton, Olympia and Tayside House were turned to rubble.

It was not until 2015 that construction work on the V&A actually began and only after the cost ballooned to an eye-watering £80 million.

Kengo Kuma checking progress on his design.

Yet now, 11 years after former First Minister Jack McConnell announced the feasibility study into bringing the V&A to Dundee, the museum stands tall and ready to open its doors to the public at last.

The excitement is palpable.

The Discovery remains berthed next door, but the jagged edges of the museum provide a new, stunning backdrop for Captain Scott’s former ship.

V&A Dundee and the Discovery make a dramatic statement for the new Dundee waterfront zone.

Meanwhile, publications across the world are heralding Dundee’s rebirth and urging people to visit.

The museum will house the Scottish Design Galleries, which will feature hundreds of unique objects from the V&A’s collections telling the story of design in Scotland, while its main gallery space will be used for touring exhibitions.

The first exhibition it will host, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, explores the glory days of cruise ships.

This gallery is the largest such space in the country so when visitors walk through the doors they will be seeing something on a scale that is not just new for Dundee, but for Scotland as a whole.

The V&A has helped transform Dundee physically and helped turn it from a place that many regarded as dismal and down on its luck to Scotland’s most vibrant and exciting city.

Not bad for something that doesn’t even open until September.

V&A Dundee.