The V&A Dundee project architect takes us through Kengo Kuma's modern and cutting-edge design
'When I first saw Kengo Kuma's drawings for V&A Dundee,' says director Philip Long, 'I realised he had designed something truly remarkable.' With its ambitious, geometric structure stretching out onto the River Tay, the building seeks to reconnect the city with its historic waterfront.
During the 2010 competition to deliver V&A Dundee, the unique and modern design concepts of the acclaimed Japanese architect stood out among the many submissions from all over the world. Inspired by the cliffs of Scotland's east coast and with Dundee's shipbuilding and textiles heritage firmly in mind, both tradition and innovation were very much at the forefront of Kuma's architectural vision.
The cliffs of Scotland's east coast / credit: Phil Turner 'Generally speaking, we wanted to create something that fits the site in a very natural way and at the same time, reconnects the city centre of Dundee back to the River Tay,' project architect Maurizio Mucciola explains. Having established his own practice, PiM.studio Architects, in London in 2016 but having worked at Kengo Kuma & Associates for a number of years, Mucciola was tasked with guiding the team and leading the project to completion.
'During the first stage, the entire design team of architects and myself were all based in Japan. Then during the more detailed stages of design, we moved the team to Edinburgh so we could be closer to the client as well as our engineers. But we were still having daily discussions with Kengo Kuma and the partners in Tokyo so we could progress the design together.'
From his base in London, Mucciola journeys to Dundee regularly, having been on site almost every week in the past year to help guide the project and the wider team. So with the bulk of the superstructure complete, how close is the realised project to Kuma's original concept? 'The overall concept has essentially been realised,' he says. 'It's been a challenge but a very interesting one: working with double curvature walls and with cutting edge technologies for the elements has been very fascinating for everyone involved. We had to work closely with each other and our structural engineers from the beginning but we managed to coordinate well and I think it's been very successful.'
credit: Ross Fraser McLean The building's exterior, which uses 2500 cast stone panels each weighing up to two tonnes and measuring up to four metres, is dramatic in its overall make-up, providing a bold addition to Dundee's cityscape, without being obtrusive. 'With an exceptional and contemporary design, it's important that it still manages to find its own place in the context and in the city through some of the design elements. So, we felt that in the space, if we had gone with a glass building, even with a complex shape, it wouldn't have been appropriate because it wouldn't have felt a part of Dundee. When I normally arrive in Dundee by train and cross the bridge, I always have to look twice before I locate the building. And that makes me very proud because I think that despite having an exceptional design, the building still blends with the rest of the city centre and the surrounding area. I think that's a very positive thing that we've managed to achieve.'
It's not just the architects involved or the public bodies and private donors that have been thrilled by what has already been accomplished with this extraordinary building, the local reception has also been hugely positive from the beginning. 'We've held a few public consultations through the planning process and pretty much everyone was supportive and happy about the council's decision to allow this important project in Dundee,' notes Mucciola. 'Every time I come to Dundee, taxi drivers or people in the hotels are so supportive and always ask me about the progress of the project. It's very nice to be working in such a positive environment.'
Though the construction of the building was completed in January, work will continue inside as exhibitions are installed in the galleries, and critical pieces, like Charles Rennie Mackintosh's conserved Oak Room, are moved into place. But with just a few months to go until visitors will be welcomed in to Scotland's first design museum, Kengo Kuma & Associates, along with Mucciola and the whole design team involved, are hopeful that both locals and tourists will soon see the building as a key feature of Dundee.
'I hope that people really see this building as part of their city and part of the public space of the city both externally and internally, and that it can become a part of their everyday life. I think we designed the building in a way that the exhibitions and learning centre will of course play a central role, but that the rest of the building and the main hall especially, will be there for people just to relax and have a coffee. I hope that people will use it as a nice space and as a building that is theirs to enjoy.'
V&A Dundee is open to the public from Sat 15 Sep 2018.
V&A Dundee is part of the £1bn regeneration programme of Dundee Waterfront, and it's one of the largest and busiest art and design hubs in the country. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma won the competition in 2010, and construction began in March 2015.