As Scotland gets set to welcome a V&A museum to Dundee, we hear from the new museum’s Director, Philip Long, as he discusses the impact design has on our everyday lives.
Take a look at your surroundings: the chair you sit in, the bed you sleep in, the kettle you use to make your morning coffee. All of these everyday items are products of design, but so often we forget that. This makes the arrival of the V&A Dundee all the more exciting and relevant.
“There’s not a dedicated design museum outside of London. V&A Dundee will address that, and bring design-led exhibitions to a whole new audience,” says Philip Long, Director of V&A Dundee, which is set to open its doors to the public on Saturday 15 September.
A project that’s been a decade in the making, the building is the vision of internationally renowned Architect, Kengo Kuma, “The building is extraordinary and what you would expect from a design museum; it’s ambitious, innovative and thought-provoking. But at the same time, it provides a fantastic environment for visitors to view our collections, some of which have never been on display in Scotland before,” Philip says.
V&A Dundee’s inaugural exhibition will be Ocean Liners: Speed and Style and as Philip explains, it’s set to be an immersive experience for visitors, “The exhibition will be presented in such a way that people will feel like they are stepping on board one of these extraordinary ships. They will experience the different environments that make up an ocean liner, including everything from luxurious interior design elements to the engine room,” says Philip.
Ocean Liners was chosen as V&A Dundee’s first exhibition for many reasons, “Scotland played a huge role in ship building in the 19th and 20th century, which did a great deal for the country’s manufacturing industry.
“These ships were also a key mode of transport in their day. They were microcosms where people spent days – even weeks – of their lives. With this in mind, the design and functionality of these ships was of great importance,” Philip explains. “It’s a remarkable exhibition and we’re delighted that Baillie Gifford is supporting us in bringing it to Scotland.”
V&A Dundee has an important part to play in terms of helping people to understand the pivotal role design plays in our lives.
In addition to Ocean Liners, the outstanding exhibition space will showcase galleries of Scotland’s design history, dating back to the 15th century, “At the heart of our galleries is a newly conserved and restored Charles Rennie Mackintosh Tea Room Interior, which hasn’t been seen since 1970 and creates a complete environment for people to see the work of the best-known architect and designer Scotland has produced,” Philip says.
Despite not being open yet, V&A Dundee has been engaging locally – and further afield – for some time, with its outreach programmes, “We wanted to get people involved in the project from an early stage. This led to a number of different initiatives, including the Scottish Design Relay, a national project inspired by a selection of objects visitors will see when the museum opens. We’ve been working with young people, local manufacturers and designers to help develop new products, which will feature in one of our first exhibitions,” Philip says.
As well as the Scottish Design Relay, V&A Dundee also partnered with every senior school in Dundee and Angus, challenging young people to think about how they could use design to improve their environment, “1,000 pupils were involved in this project in some way, and so many great ideas were put forward. It wasn’t easy to narrow it down to just 10 groups who would go on to work with a designer and a filmmaker to take their product to prototype stage,” explains Philip.
Throughout the process, Philip noted how impressive it was to see the young people think about design and how it could be used to make a difference, “There were a lot of very creative ideas,” Phil says. “An idea that stands out was an app to support young people who are being bullied.”
Undoubtedly, Philip is excited about having such a prestigious museum in Scotland, but he also talks positively about the impact it could have more locally, “The museum is at the front and centre of Dundee’s redevelopment and its realisation is a powerful example of what can be achieved here, in a city of just 150,000 residents.”
With a matter of months to go until the museum opens its doors, Philip is excited to share V&A Dundee’s vision with its visitors, “V&A Dundee has an important part to play in terms of helping people to understand the pivotal role design plays in our lives. I also think the museum will become an essential part of what Scotland has to offer from a cultural perspective and that is truly rewarding.”