V&A Museum of Design, Dundee, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Kengo Kuma’s new V&A Museum of Design recently reached a defining moment in what are the final stages of its construction on Dundee’s waterfront. The removal of the temporary cofferdam, which enabled the building to be anchored into the bedrock of the River Tay, has finally revealed the full drama of the landmark project, which sports a striking façade inspired by the craggy cliff formations of Scotland’s east coast.
Due to open in 2018, the £80m V&A Dundee will be Scotland’s first dedicated design museum, and the only V&A museum outside London. The project will also be the first building in the UK designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who this year has otherwise been busy working on Tokyo’s National Stadium, the centerpiece of the 2020 Olympics.
In a bravura feat of engineering, structural experts Arup and construction firm BAM had to dig 30 200m-deep bore holes to form part of the museum’s geothermal heating system, before building a complex structure in which every single exterior wall is curved. They then covered it with over 2,400 pre-cast panels to create a striated façade that projects out towards the sea.
Speaking exclusively to Wallpaper*, Kuma, whose design was chosen in 2010 following an international competition, describes the key concept behind the recently revealed superstructure: ‘The pre-cast concrete gives a monumentality to the façade design. We also wanted to create a real roughness, so we exposed the aggregate in the concrete. This matches the roughness and strength of the sea and surrounding topography. Between the concrete panels, strong shadows create changing patterns, forming a new relationship between the river and the building. It fits with the beauty of the coast.’
For all its scale, the V&A Dundee is not conceived simply as a standalone statement building. Central to the architect’s vision was to root the building in the city itself. Indeed, it is a key element of Dundee’s 30-year waterfront masterplan; the museum will sit alongside a new public park and the historic ship RRS Discovery, which took Scott to the Antarctic.
The V&A building is described by Kuma as ‘a bridge connecting the city to the river’. In fact, the axis of Union Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, passes directly under the museum, via a public plaza and walkway cut through the middle of the building.
The three-storey, 8,000 sq m museum includes a main hall, learning centre, lecture theatre, temporary exhibition space, and a permanent gallery dedicated to Scotland’s outstanding design heritage. Its star exhibit will be Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a two-storey masterpiece being rebuilt after spending over four decades in storage.
The building consists of two structures at ground level, intersected by the public walkway and housing separate staff quarters and public areas. They join to form an upper level supported by huge steel beams and offering large, uninterrupted gallery spaces, with the main public hall and restaurant featuring in the building’s ‘prow’.
Internally, Kuma’s aim was to create a homely, rather than impersonal, environment. ‘Despite the building’s monolithic form, the interior space is a combination of natural light and warm materials, such as oak timber finishes,’ explains the architect. ‘The aim is that when people go into the building after coming in from the elements, it will feel like their living room.’ Landscaping, by Edinburgh-based multidisciplinary studio Open, will include large-scale water features as well as plaza spaces for performance and exhibitions. The result, according to Kuma, will be ‘a new landmark at one with nature’.
Pictured: the striated façade is made of over 2,400 pre-cast concrete fins, each weighing up to three tones
Photography: Benedict Redgrove. Writer: Caroline Ednie