The most high-profile museum opening of 2018 isn’t in Paris or New York but Scotland’s fourth-largest city: Dundee. Conceived by Kengo Kuma, the architect behind Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic stadium, the V&A Dundee, which debuts this month, is the first outpost of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and it’s a celebration of Scottish design both high (a Charles Rennie Mackintosh tea room) and low (Hunter wellie boots). The building, which evokes both the jagged cliffs of northeastern Scotland and Dundee’s shipbuilding past, juts like a ship’s bow over the River Tay, standing in tandem with the RSS Discovery, which started life here before carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic.
The location is both a point of pride and a puzzle for many Scots. For decades, Dundee has been a punchline, a post-industrial backwater known for producing jute (rug fibers), marmalade, comic books, and Timex watches. But as in the cities of the American Rust Belt, a late-20th-century economic downturn has given Dundee a chance to dramatically reinvent itself. Now, local officials are banking on the so-called Bilbao Effect—a reference to the way Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum almost single-handedly revitalized the Basque city.
“Dundee has shaken off its old image, definitely,” says Russell Pepper, the creator of Open/Close Dundee, a street-art trail that uses back-alley doorways as a canvas. “Everyone was just waiting for it to happen.”
What caused this renaissance? Among other things, the 1999 opening of the Dundee Contemporary Arts center and the city’s emergence as a video game development capital (it’s home to the companies behind Lemmings, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto) helped pave the way for it to become the U.K.’s first UNESCO Creative City of Design (alongside Berlin and Montreal) in 2014.
Now comes the V&A, which was designed with Dundonians in mind. Kuma has said that he wants the space to be a living room for the city. In fact, the V&A anchors a £1 billion waterfront regeneration project that seeks, over the next 30 years, to reconnect the city to the Tay, with a new community garden, hotel developments, and a rail station—an entryway for many of the estimated 500,000 visitors who are expected to pass through the city during the V&A’s first year.
To meet the need for these newcomers, the city has welcomed a microbrewery (71 Brewing), a Havana-themed rum bar (The King of Islington), a barbershop/café/boutique (Hard Grind), and more. “There is a drive here,” says Ryan McLeod, co-owner of the design studio Agency of None and host of the podcast Creative Chit Chat Dundee. “This is not the finished article, the polished object. We still have a lot of work to do, and so we all work together to get there.”