Being a Dundee boy, and loving my home city as I do, I think it’s very interesting to watch as the 6 short listed designs for the proposed V & A building, which it is proposed will grace the Dundee waterfront, go under the microscope of both the general public and those who work within the built environment field. Firstly, let’s face facts; this is a fantastic opportunity for the city, to not only achieve a building of real iconic status but also to help improve the general attractiveness of the waterfront area and the allure of the city as a place to visit.
When I was young, growing up in the city, it has to be said that Dundee was not a very attractive place to live or visit. Architecture of the 1960s, I’m thinking of the old Overgate in particular, as well as neglect had really created an unpleasant built environment. However, by the time I left Dundee, when I was 24, the city had slowly but surely made itself over and become a very enjoyable place to live indeed. Now, when I return, I am always impressed with the steps that the city has taken to shake off its (unfair) negative image and to establish itself as a place where people would want to live and work and visit. The plans to reconnect the central area and the waterfront are essential, in my view, to truly achieving a central area of real value. The connecting of the city centre to such attractions as the Discovery and Unicorn, as well as the new V & A building should not be underestimated. Having spent time in many European cities, Dundee really has the perfect setting and the potential to be an amazing city with a waterfront of outstanding quality. The people are brilliant and, slowly but surely, the city is becoming a much lovelier place.
So the proposed V & A building, the opportunity to create an iconic landmark on the Dundee waterfront, should be embraced and welcomed. In fact, the waterfront – lets not talk about Thatcher or the Hilton/Olympia or even Tesco – really has been one of the biggest let downs in the city. A missed opportunity if you ask me but, again, another part of the city where the image is being addressed bit by bit, piece by piece.
For me, personally, there are a number of things that are important about the building which is selected as the winner. Firstly, the building needs to be functional. It needs to respond to the requirements of the users and it needs to provide facilities worthy of a world class facility. Secondly, the building needs to be iconic. It really needs to be something that inspires. That people can associate with Dundee instantly and that acts as an image of the city. Perhaps a bit like the way the Sydney Opera House does, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Chrysler building in New York. At the same time, the building must not detract from the setting of the city. Let’s face it, crossing the Tay Bridge from Fife to Dundee can be quite a stunning experience (once the multis are gone anyways!). Stephen Fry was right when he said the city is situated in one of the best locations in the world, so the building needs to respond to its setting. How it interacts with the city skyline and the river will be essential to achieving something of real beauty and worth.
Architecture is the most accessible of all art forms, so ultimately the people of the city will all have to live with the building that is built. Everyone has an opinion, but let’s not forget that the Eiffel Tower was hated by the Parisians when first built, the Usher Hall was criticised by the people of Edinburgh when first built and I’m sure there are many other buildings across the world, which now stand as landmarks but divide opinion. I will be fascinated to see who wins the competition. Personally, I like the Kengo Kuma design best as it seems to tick all the right boxes in my head, but like I said, it’s all subjective really. It will be interesting to see what the city ends up with and whether it is as successful as I truly hope it will be. If you are interested, check out the 6 shortlisted designs here. Enjoy.