Civic leader lives out school dream as V&A opens its doors to the pub­lic

The Scotsman - - News Digest - By ALI­SON CAMP­SIE

The open­ing of the V&A Dundee has been a “sur­real” ex­pe­ri­ence for the city’s leader, who first sup­ported the plans to cre­ate the world­wide at­trac­tion on the wa­ter­front when he was still at school.

Coun­cil­lor John Alexan­der, 30, will wel­come his fel­low Dun­do­nians and the wider pu­bic into Kengo Kuma’s in­spired £80.1 mil­lion cre­ation on the River Tay at the of­fi­cial open­ing this morn­ing.

He re­called how as a school pupil at St Saviour’s High in Kirk­ton – one of the city’s less well-off ar­eas – he took part in the pub­lic vote that would se­cure Mr Kuma’s de­sign as the one that would trans­form the city.

Mr Alexan­der, who was elected as coun­cil leader in April last year, said: “If I am be­ing hon­est, I keep hav­ing to pinch my­self.

“It is quite sur­real. I voted for this build­ing as a se­condary school pupil long be­fore I got into pol­i­tics.

“I can’t think of any­thing else like it, which you can play that civic role, vote for the de­sign that you like and then stand in that build­ing that has been de­liv­ered.

“It is phe­nom­e­nal and I can’t re­ally de­scribe how ex­cited I am that we have de­liv­ered a build­ing of this scale and na­ture.”

The build-up to the open­ing peaked last night as the V&A took cen­tre stage in a sound and light show that was staged as part of the 3D Fes­ti­val, which will run over the week­end.

Last night Pri­mal Scream head­lined the sold-out cel­e­bra­tion with a show in Slessor Gar­dens – a new pub­lic space cre­ated as part of the wa­ter­front de­vel­op­ment – with a huge pedes­trian zone cre­ated around the mu­seum for the cel­e­bra­tions.

Dundee Coun­cil tax­pay­ers have given £6.5m to­wards the mu­seum, with a fur­ther £34m com­ing from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and £15m paid by pri­vate spon­sors.

Cre­ative Scot­land, Dundee Univer­sity, Aber­tay Univer­sity and Scot­tish En­ter­prise have also fi­nan­cially backed the new land­mark.

It is ex­pected 500,000 peo­ple will visit the mu­seum within its first year of open­ing, with the num­ber drop­ping to 300,000 a year there­after.

Around 50,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to see the mu­seum’s paid-for Ocean Lin­ers: Speed and Style open­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, a glo­ri­ous trib­ute to those who built the ves­sels – many on the River Clyde – as well as the glam­our of the ocean-go­ing life­style.

Mr Alexan­der said: “The peo­ple of Dundee have paid to­wards the mu­seum with £6.5m in coun­cil tax, so ev­ery­one is in­vested in this mu­seum in one way or an­other and we need to make sure it is work­ing for ev­ery sin­gle one of them.

“Some­times there is a per­cep­tion that mu­se­ums are just for an arty type, but it is not the case here.

“We want to make sure that ev­ery sin­gle child and adult in this city comes here or at least is con­nected in some way to the cul­ture that it of­fers.

“The ma­te­rial ben­e­fit that this mu­seum has in en­rich­ing lives, break­ing down bar­ri­ers, in ed­u­ca­tion, in eco­nom­ics… it is sig­nif­i­cant.

“I can think of no other sin­gle in­ter­ven­tion where £80m was spent and was able to de­liver this.

“The whole point of the V&A is to start to raise the bar, raise op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple and raise pros­per­ity in those ar­eas of Dundee that have too much poverty.

“We don’t shy away from those is­sues. In fact, we use it as our mo­ti­va­tion for change.” Mr Kuma has spo­ken of the V&A as a “liv­ing room for the city”, with the in­te­rior of­fer­ing vast open space where peo­ple can sit, meet and spend time.

The in­te­rior walls are decked with wood giv­ing a warm, pleas­ing feel. It sits in sharp con­trast to the heavy­weight ex­te­rior, which is said to be in­spired by sea cliffs at Ar­broath.

Mr Alexan­der said: “The sea change in opin­ion is phe­nom­e­nal. I see it and I feel it and I speak to peo­ple on a daily ba­sis about it, whether they are walk­ing down the street or do­ing their shop­ping in Asda. Peo­ple are gen­uinely ex­cited to live in the city.

“Five to ten years ago, peo­ple would not have that sense of pride that they have now when they say ‘I am from Dundee’.

“Now they are go­ing ‘V&A Dundee? That’s mine’.” The mas­ter­plan to de­velop the city’s wa­ter­front – a mess of walk­ways, derelict land, con­crete and car parks that kept the city cen­tre apart from the river – has been on­go­ing for 20 years.

V&A Dundee was later added to the jig­saw, with the idea of the mu­seum first floated in 2007 and plan­ning per­mis­sion granted in 2012.

Mr Kuma said the mu­seum had the power to “change the city” for good.

He said: “When I first came here, the wa­ter­front of Dundee was not so pleas­ant. It was dark and the city and the wa­ter were com­pletely sep­a­rated.

“This mu­seum can change the city to­tally and this pro­ject can be a model for new de­vel­op­ment for cities fac­ing wa­ter, like Toyko.

“Un­for­tu­nately Toyko wa­ter- front is also not so pleas­ant. I would like to do some­thing for Tokyo wa­ter­front. This can be the model for that.”

Mr Kuma de­fended the de­sign of the com­mer­cial build­ings that are now spring­ing up around the new mu­seum.

The river­side land­mark has be­come sur­rounded by new ho­tels and of­fice blocks as part of the long-planned eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, with some crit­i­cis­ing the de­sign.

Singer Chrissie Hynde, who played an out­door gig in the shadow of the mu­seum last week, de­scribed an of­fice block that par­tially ob­scures the view of the mu­seum as a “mon­stros­ity”. But Mr Kuma said he un­der­stood the “con­straints” of the build­ing projects around the V&A.


The V&A Dundee opens to the pub­lic to­day with 500,000 peo­ple ex­pected to visit within the first year of open­ing. About 50,000 peo­ple are fore­cast to see the mu­seum’s first paid-for ex­hi­bi­tion

John Alexan­der, left, and ar­chi­tect Kengo Kuma

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