Kengo Kuma’s V&A


Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _Gio­vanna Dun­mall PHO­TO­GRAPHS _Hufton + Crow

“We wanted to cre­ate a rhythm and mu­sic on the fa­cades, the same way that na­ture, cliffs and wa­ter have rhythm. A big con­crete box could never have given us that.” Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Kengo Kuma is in Dundee, talk­ing about the new wa­ter­front V&A mu­seum he de­signed for the Scot­tish city. Jut­ting out into the River Tay, the struc­ture’s an­gled fa­cades, Kuma ex­plains, are in­spired by the rocky cliffs of north­east­ern Scot­land, their jagged cladding com­pris­ing 2,429 pre­cast con­crete fins of var­ied depths and lengths. Struc­turally bold, the new £80-mil­lion build­ing is com­posed of two in­verted pyra­mids that rise as sep­a­rate, twist­ing vol­umes at ground level and join to­gether on the up­per floors. “The main point of this split was to cre­ate a void that al­lows peo­ple to walk through the build­ing and not just around it,” project ar­chi­tect Mau­r­izio Muc­ci­ola says, de­scrib­ing the prom­e­nade that cuts through the mu­seum’s foot­print. Kuma calls this void a “cave” and it does in­deed feel dark and hu­mid; as you come through on the river-fac­ing side, you feel as if you have emerged into the light. The theatre of this void and the

fa­cades – with their danc­ing shadow play cre­ated by the wa­ter and the pass­ing sun and clouds – is some­what eclipsed by the mu­seum’s great­est flaw, one that the ar­chi­tect could do lit­tle about: the sur­round­ing con­text. A re­cently ren­o­vated rail­way sta­tion across the road and a mixed-use block go­ing up trou­blingly close by can only be de­scribed as generic, with the lat­ter block­ing views from one part of the city. And there is more con­struc­tion planned nearby. The mu­seum is part of a long-term, £1-bil­lion wa­ter­front re­gen­er­a­tion much needed in a post-in­dus­trial city plagued by so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems. It’s just a pity that there is such a dis­crep­ancy in de­sign am­bi­tions. In con­trast to the mon­u­men­tal ex­te­rior, things are warm and light-filled in­side. Low-ly­ing win­dows re­veal the wa­ter lap­ping at the “prow” of the ship-like build­ing, and a lofty atrium is lined with tim­ber pan­elling on the walls and dark, fos­sil-rich Ir­ish lime­stone on the floor. A grand stair­case, with low, deep steps that en­cour­age a slow, pro­ces­sional walk, wraps along one wall. “It gives you time to stop and turn around and look at the main hall as you rise,” ex­plains Muc­ci­ola. Up­stairs are rooms ded­i­cated to learn­ing, a restau­rant and 1,650 square me­tres of ex­hi­bi­tion space di­vided into two gal­leries. The larger gallery is ded­i­cated to tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions; the other is home to the per­ma­nent Scot­tish De­sign Gal­leries. Pride of place goes to the 1907 Glas­gow tea room de­signed by Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh, re­assem­bled here af­ter half a cen­tury in stor­age. Left un­fur­nished, the Oak Room is a hand­some and har­mo­nious space with in­tri­cate lat­tice-pat­terned wood­work and pur­ple mouth-blown glass lights whose rich, streaky hue was achieved by ad­ding gold to the blend. In a year that marks the 150th an­niver­sary of Mack­in­tosh’s birth and also saw his iconic Glas­gow School of Art de­stroyed by fire, it’s a timely and fit­ting trib­ute. The ar­rival of the V&A Dundee – the first V&A mu­seum out­side of Lon­don – is ex­cit­ing be­cause it gives greater promi­nence to a world-class de­sign cul­ture. And it does so in a unique and mem­o­rable build­ing that links the city back to its mighty and beau­ti­ful river.,

Shal­low pools add to the shadow play cre­ated by the ship-like build­ing’s an­gled fa­cades. The warm, tim­ber-lined in­te­rior (below) starkly con­trasts its aus­tere shell.

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