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Kengo Kuma's V&A Dundee already ushering in new Scottish talent

by on Jun 25, 2018 in Architecture , Top Story
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The new and soon to be opened, V&A Dundee in Scotland showcases the vibrancy and innovation of the country's contemporary design scene

Taking inspiration from Scotland's rugged coastline and the docklands in which it is situated, a striking new building in Dundee attempts to create a dialogue between nature and the city. This startling angular structure by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is the V&A Dundee.

In 2010, an international competition challenged architects to design an inspirational building that would be Scotland's first design museum. This structure would reconnect Dundee to the River Tay, its lifeline with its history of shipbuilding and trade in textiles. Kengo Kuma's scheme was chosen from 120 original design concepts. From the beginning, his ambition was to create a building that found the correct balance between the river and the city. "I have visited Scotland many times. It is a very beautiful country and I'm truly in love with the Scottish landscape and nature," Kuma says. "It is our intention to find a balanced approach to nature and the city life of Dundee."

V_A Dundee - Dec 2017 images (2)

V&A Dundee director Philip Long praised the building, which is scheduled to open on September 15: "Striking and bold, yet sympathetic to the surrounding landscape. Modern and cutting edge, yet true to Scotland's heritage of innovation. Strong and resilient, yet beautiful and clever."

Kuma's design, comprising a delicate 300mm-thick concrete shell and a complex horizontal facade of concrete striations, sits at the heart of the Dundee waterfront. It simultaneously evokes the profile of a ship and geological strata. V&A Dundee is a striking, sophisticated structure with twisting, folding exterior walls. Pushing the limits of what's possible to build, Kuma worked with engineers Arup, which used the twists and folds of the walls as a way to strengthen the building, a principle not dissimilar to origami, which relies on paper becoming more rigid when folded.

Dundee will be the only V&A museum outside London and has a vital role to play in the rejuvenation of the city's once-thriving docklands, as well as its cultural life

There are 2,500 cast stone panels – each one weighing up to 2 tonnes and measuring up to 4m – placed on the exterior of the building. The panels are of different sizes and weights and have been placed in precise ways so that when the sun moves around the museum, it casts varied patterns of shadows. The dramatic angles and rough textured concrete panel design bestow the rugged appearance of a Scottish cliff face.V&A Dundee

Dundee will be the only V&A museum outside London and has a vital role to play in the rejuvenation of the city's once-thriving docklands, as well as its cultural life. It will host touring exhibitions as well as showcase native talent. The museum's Scottish Design Galleries, which display architecture, ceramics, engineering, fashion, furniture, jewellery, textiles and video game design, celebrate the country's rich tradition of craft and making.

Throughout Scotland, designers are reinventing timeless craft traditions in surprising and inventive ways and proving that the country is nurturing a new wave of talent. Here are four individuals and companies to watch out for.


Angus Ross: Wood shaperAngus Ross-Quercus_Pods_003

Based in the Scottish Highlands since 2002, Angus Ross' studio has established a reputation for exquisite craftsmanship and elegant curvaceous shapes in native hardwoods. Buying a share in a beautiful mixed-woodland of oak, birch and alder near his home in Perthshire marked a defining moment for his practice. He began a deep exploration of the time-honoured woodcraft practice of steam bending, used for centuries in Scotland to make boats, barrels, furniture and agricultural tools.

"I am inspired by form and structure whether constructed, in nature or in new technology, particularly when there is tension or movement," says Ross. "This may be actual movement or a sense of dynamism and flow." Forth Bench is a beautiful love seat inspired by Scotland's famous cantilever railway bridge over the River Forth.

Pushing the boundaries of both the materials and his skills, a single length of oak is bent into a flowing spiral, surrounding a bench of steam-bent loops and supported by hand-turned stretchers.


Kate Colin: Light sculptor

Based in Glasgow, lighting designer Kate Colin explores how light, colour and geometry interact; she puts a keen focus on three-dimensional geometric forms, with intricate hand scoring and paper-folding techniques key to her work. "Every piece is made of a unique combination of colours and, when illuminated, their appearance is radically transformed: folds, creases and angles become emphasised while an intensity of colour is brilliantly revealed," explains Colin.

Photo: Alaisdair Smith Photography

Photo: Alaisdair Smith Photography

Self-taught, Colin has developed her own techniques of hand scoring, folding and stitching paper. Inspired by muted mid-century colour palettes, she is drawn to the simplicity of classic Scandinavian and Japanese design.

"I grew up with a mathematician father who enjoyed making polyhedron models; it was these complex structures which inspired me to start making my own geometric forms from folded paper," she adds. "I became fascinated by their infinite variety, lines, shadows and colour and how they changed in appearance with the presence or absence of light."


method_TEA_F&M_ghp_46 (2)_Credit Graeme Hunter Pictures & Method Studio

Photo: Graeme Hunter Pictures & Method Studio

Method Studio: The bespokers

Founded in 2009 by architect Marisa Giannasi and cabinet maker Callum Robinson, Method Studio draws on ancient craft techniques as well as contemporary design thinking. Method's handsome designs include a solid-oak chest made as a presentation case for Loch Lomond's 50-year-old single-malt whisky. The surface is indigo-dyed until almost black, heavily waxed and then brushed to a smooth and silky finish. Inside, the cabinet is lined in beautiful aged tan leather. "Each of these 60 cases appear to be a three-dimensional manifestation of tempestuous water of Loch Lomond at twilight," explains Giannasi. "Because of the wood, leather and metal materials that we specialise in, the pieces that we make have a raw and tactile, elemental feeling to them."

Other commissions include an intricately crafted tea chest for Fortnum & Mason in oiled and waxed oak that evokes the spirit of vintage picnic hampers; and perfume boxes for Burberry that combine luscious green verde marble, full-grain leather, fumed oak, custom-made brass, gold leaf, velvet and thick bridle leather. "Our clients are always brands that have their heart in craft and appreciate the amount of time and effort we put into making."


Timorous Beasties: Wall enhancers

Making a mark on the wall with bold, witty and slightly surreal patterns, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons celebrate the wildness of nature and grittiness of urban life. In 1990, they named their company after a line in a Robert Burns poem and set out to reference and subvert traditional textile imagery. The design duo had early success with their provocative take on the French textile tradition of toile de jouy. In their hand-drawn Glasgow

Toile design they replaced images of idyllic pastoral life with visions of the city's underbelly, including tower blocks, teenage mothers and heroin addicts. "When we started, the market was pretty dull, which gave us something to kick against," explains Simmons. "We tried to fight against twee textile design."

Timorous Beasties' wallpapers are equally experimental. Pattern inspirations include everything from William Morris's flowers and birds to the insects that invade the home, or a stain on the wall. The resulting designs are striking updates on classic wallpaper themes – and are anything but timorous

Clouded Leopard-Wallpaper_insitue_04


This piece first appeared as "Great Scott”, a feature article from the June issue of Perspective magazine. 

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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