V&A Dundee – Jam tomorrow

“It's very good jam,” said the Queen.

“Well, I don't want any TO-DAY, at any rate.”

“You couldn't have it if you DID want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Having been brought up in Fife, directly across the river Tay from Dundee, I have watched the development of the V&A with great interest, literally from my dad’s living room window, and so was really looking forward to its opening this month.

The opening of the V&A has certainly created a very positive buzz about Dundee with, for example, the Lonely Planet naming it amongst the ten best European destinations to visit this year, and the Wall Street Journal ranking it number 5 on its Worldwide Hot Destinations for 2018. But what does it really mean for the city?

The 1980s and 1990s was a period of post-industrial decline for Dundee, with jam maker Keiller moving to Manchester in 1988, the last jute mill closing in 1998 and the Timex factory closing in 1993. In response to this, Dundee had to begin to reinvent itself even before the idea of the V&A was even conceived, with much of the reinvention focussed around design.

The opening of the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre in 1999, a Richard Murphy designed building, was for me one of the first signs of a positive change in perceptions of the city, and has been marked by others as a turning point for Dundee. There was also the growth of the computer games industry in late 1980s and early 1990s, including most notably the release of Grand Theft Auto by DMA Design in 1997 (although I have to admit that it is totally alien territory for me!).

But what really put Dundee on the map, in planning terms at least, was the adoption of the Dundee Waterfront Masterplan in 2001, of which the V&A now forms a part. The V&A is hugely exciting in itself, both as a building (designed by internationally renowned architect Kengo Kuma) and a cultural asset (being Scotland’s first design museum). But as part of the £1bn masterplan, the third largest regeneration project in the UK, encompassing 240 hectares of land along 8km of the Tay, it also symbolises and contributes significantly to the regeneration of Dundee.

The masterplan is a great example of collaboration between public, private and third sector agencies across a number of disciplines, including planning, art, science, finance "To transform the City of Dundee into a world leading waterfront destination for visitors and businesses through the enhancement of its physical, economic and cultural assets." with delivery over a 30-year period. It includes consideration of how the waterfront area relates to the existing city centre, prioritises walking, cycling and public transport, creates new areas of public realm and incorporates housing, offices, hotels, bars, cafes, shops, space for creative and life sciences, the existing Discovery Centre and a new railway station, as well as the V&A.

The V&A itself is projected to attract 500,000 visitors in its first year (more than 27,000 people visited in its first week!) and will directly create over 600 full time equivalent jobs, so will be a valuable economic asset. But regeneration shouldn’t be about just one building. Other cities have of course tried to use the potential of “iconic” cultural buildings as a catalyst for regeneration, with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao as a point of reference for success in this regard. Reflecting on this in October 2017 (the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum), Rowan Moore in the Guardian referred to the “Bilbao effect – a phenomenon whereby cultural investment plus showy architecture is supposed to equal economic uplift for cities down on their luck.” In that article he commented that “… rarely, if ever, have the myriad wannabe Bilbaos matched the original.” The good news for Dundee is that, although the opening of the V&A is a significant milestone in the regeneration of the city, it is firmly rooted in a wider and long-term masterplan. Dundee is not relying on the V&A alone.

So, there may have been jam in Dundee yesterday (the only marmalade producer remaining in the Dundee area now being in Arbroath) but the opening of the V&A, complete with a multi-purpose auditorium for design jams and other events, means that there will definitely be jam tomorrow.

Margaret Bochel, director, Aurora Planning Limited

Margaret Bochel, director, Aurora Planning Limited