The visitor arriving in Dundee by train gets a rather uninspiring welcome after the grandeur of the great railway bridge.
Climbing a flight of stairs at the station, a woman’s voice repeats on a Tannoy loop: “Customers are reminded to always use the handrail and take care on the stairs.” Once is enough; but it is repeated four times by the time you reach the top step.
It almost sounds like a video installation – and being Dundee - with its unbeatable track record in the Turner Prize, it might well be so.
However, arriving in Dundee by train has always been a guddle of working out where exactly you are.
But Dundee is moving. Its heart and soul is moving back towards the silvery Tay that has made it a famous city.
Dundee is investing ￡1bn in its waterfront regeneration. The man leading the Waterfront project is Glasgow Boy Mike Galloway, who is Dundee City Council’s director of city development, working in a project board with Dundee chief executive, David Dorward, and councillors Ken Guild, the chairman, and Will Dawson along with Eddie Brogan and Allan McQuade from Scottish Enterprise.
He and colleague Allan Watt, the Dundee Waterfront project co-ordinator, have offered to give a guided tour of what is set to become a fantastic new cityscape.
“What we are trying to do is sort out Dundee’s front door.
You make your mind up about a place very quickly – often in the first couple of minutes.
Anyone who arrives in Dundee for the first time now, is coming into a very disorientated and uninspiring area.
We felt we had to radically improve the environment,” he says.
But wasn’t Dundee regenerated 20 years ago with the arrival of the Discovery and the title: City of Discovery?” “It is a continuation of that regeneration.
The City of Discovery was all about using the universities and the art college as an engine for the local economy, particularly the medicine, bio-science and digital media.
That has been highly successful and Dundee is regarded as one of the leading places in the world for life sciences.” Indeed, Dundee punches well above its size for the number of Nobel Prize laureates, for its world-class work on cancer and diabetes, with its Welcome Foundation Research Centre the biggest in the world.
Its pre-eminence in digital technology and computer game design has put the city on the map.
But the waterfront from the airport to the docks – cut off by trunk roads and the railway track, has been a lost opportunity.
So the Waterfront vision is: “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.” And there are five zones being regenerated.
The funding key unlocking the project was nine years ago when the Cities Growth Fund was established by the Scottish Government following a review of the nation’s main urban places.
Scotland’s six cities [there are now seven since Perth re-gained its status] were viewed as the engines for future economic growth and were given lump sums to grow their business base.
The other cities spread their money thinly across a number of projects, Dundee decided on the big bang approach.
“In Dundee, we took the view that if we spread it out we wouldn’t have anything of any real effect: not a game-changer.
Therefore, we should put all our money into one project and that was Waterfront Dundee.” From then on Galloway has been charged with turning the masterplan and vision into a reality.
“It was then that we brought a stronger partnership together involving Dundee Council and Scottish Enterprise.” With extra funding from the council, Scottish Enterprise, European Regional Development Fund, and the recycling of receipt for the land sales which has been ring-fenced for the development, this was a project of national UK significance.
Dundee was pleased that the surrounding local authorities of Perth, Angus and Fife, also supported the council’s plan, expecting spin-offs in terms of jobs and housing from an improving Dundee.
Dundonians are typically cautious and sceptical of grandiose schemes for their Tayside city.
The city has faced acute deprivation in some districts and many have struggled to find proper work in the newer knowledge-based industries.
Mike Galloway knew that a lot of groundwork was required and ￡3.4m was spent on the initial basic infrastructure work, which will include re-routing the major roads into two new Boulevards. But the waterfront project also needed a flagship attraction to anchor this ambition.
“I think there was a lot of scepticism at the beginning because people thought the waterfront had been ‘done’ before during the 1970s and 1980s, when it got the Hilton hotel, Tayside House and the Olympia Leisure Centre and Pool.
People would say, ‘You’ve made a mess of it once, who is to say you won’t do the same again.’ “We had quite a job convincing people of what we were trying to do – and our ability to deliver it.
And the jury is still out because we’ve got to deliver the vast majority of it, but people are on side now.” For Galloway, the imperative is to demonstrate to the young generation that this will get them into work.
This, after all, is not about a nice place with a view to sip a Starbucks’ Frappuccino, but about real jobs for people.
“We are talking to the schools and advising the younger people in Dundee about what kind of careers will be available to them and then getting things like great hospitality courses in the local colleges, good engineering courses that will match the requirements of the life sciences or renewable industries – such as wind turbine manufacturing.
“There is a lot of expectation about turning around the city’s economy.” But the game-changer was landing the Victoria & Albert Museum for Dundee, the result of a dinner.
In 2007, Sir Mark Jones, director of the V&A since 2001, who had been a director of the National Museum of Scotland, and involved with SCRAN, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, knew the secretary of the University of Dundee, and came to see the work at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (JCAD).
That evening, the University principal Alan Langlands held a dinner in his residence which included Mike Galloway. The topic around the table was the importance of design, and its industrial applications and it turned to the regeneration project.
“We were talking about the Guggenheim in Bilbao and we told Mark about the Waterfront in Dundee and he was really interested in the location.
The V&A didn’t have any proposal in mind to build another museum anywhere in the UK – although they had a project in Sheffield - but they were looking to demonstrate their outreach beyond London.”
This cluster of design expertise, not just in fashion and contemporary art, but in computer technology, health appliances and life science manufacturing, has emerged as a speciality to rival the old city moniker of the ‘The Three Js: Jute, Jam and Journalism’.
Design Dundee Ltd is leading the V&A project; it is chaired by Lesley Knox, and is a partnership between the V&A, the University of Dundee, which includes the School of Architecture and the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, the University of Abertay Dundee, Scottish Enterprise and the Council.
While DJCAD is a central pillar of this with alumni such as Louise Wilson, artist and filmmaker Luke Fowler, shortlisted for the Turner in 2012, and Turner Winner in 2010, Susan Philipsz, plus staff members including Louise Scullion, Matthew Dalziel and Graham Fagan.
The college and its output is genuinely world class. In the last two years DJCAD students have won more awards at the London New Designers exhibitions than any other institution in the UK.
That initial dinner-table conversation continued over the coming months culminating in a 20-year agreement. This has given everyone a tremendous boost.
“It was really important that we got a world-class architect but we were very keen to get someone who was the next emerging star architect. There wasn’t an appetite just to get Frank Gehry to design it. [He designed the Jewel Box Maggie Centre opened in Dundee in 2003].”
Galloway was one of the judging panel, along with Moira Gemmill, the project director from the V&A, and Graeme Hutton, dean of the School of Architecture, Jill Farrell, of Scottish Enterprise, Clive Gillman, of Dundee Centre for Contemporary Arts, and architect Jim Eyre.
The panel was chaired by the well-known Scottish business figure Lesley Knox, who heads up Design Dundee Ltd, and is also past chair of Alliance Trust, one of the City’s major investment companies, and Edinburgh private client investors, Turcan Connell.
She is also a non-executive director of Centrica and SABMiller. The selection process involved a public exhibition of the six short-listed designs where Dundee folk turned out in their thousands at Abertay University Library to choose their favourite.
The winning architect, announced in 2010, was Kengo Kuma and Associates from Japan. Kuma was born in Yokohama in 1954 and is one of Japan’s most celebrated modern architects and he described his design as ‘A Living Room in the City’.
He was the clear favourite with the panel. Kengo Kuma is also working in partnership with Edinburgh practice Cre8architecture, set up in 2006, by Peter Bowman, Ian Hogg and Lynn Algar.
The V&A at Dundee will give the city an international edge. It is a £45m project, due to open in 2015.
The Scottish Government has given £15m with another £15m coming from European funds and the Heritage Lottery Funds. (A recent advance of £9.2m from the Lottery has allowed first phase work to begin), with the remainder from private fund-raising donations. One anonymous donation of £2m has already been pledged. On the day of BQ’s visit, Mike Galloway spoke of the proposal which will soon go to Dundee’s planning committee.
The decision to build out into the water was taken because Scotland’s politicians wanted to get this prestige project going more rapidly and no space was then available, so a previously rejected idea to extend out across the Tay was dusted down and re-worked.
“It is very unlikely that there will be any objections to the building. There is huge public support for it and it is an integral part of the masterplan.” He points a finger out towards the river.
“Basically there are two main functions within the building. Firstly, there are Galleries One and Two which, when combined together, will be the largest single exhibition area of its type in Scotland. What it will be able to do is take the travelling exhibitions from the V&A – this will be its big blockbuster tours.
“The V&A has given us a commitment for at least 20 years that it will provide Dundee with its major touring exhibitions. These are often the world-class design exhibitions that tour the world’s top galleries. So this gives Dundee a genuine lead and another reason to come here. We provide the building and we run it. That’s the deal we put together.”
Secondly, in Galleries Three and Four, there will also be a slowly evolving display of Scotland’s own heritage in design, giving room for the likes of Robert Adam, Christopher Dresser, Harris Tweed, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Phoebe Traquair and Bill Gibb, to have their work displayed.
“This will show design’s importance to products and the world of business and manufacturing. It marries well with Dundee’s intellectual and creative sector today,” says Mike Galloway.
It’s a challenging architectural environment since the tidal Tay is the largest river in the UK, although the engineers will be able to drill through the silt to reach the bedrock, just metres below the surface.
The building pier will be on piles in the Tay at the end of Union Street (an ironic name given that the local council is SNP!) which will link the museum and the main shopping district.
The V&A’s illustrious neighbour, the Discovery of Captain Scott fame, in its wet dock beside the new V&A, will be given a new berth, so that visitors can directly connect between the town and the waterfront gallery.
The five zones are Riverside, with its nature park and flats, Seabraes, the Central Waterfront, where the V&A will be sited, City Quay, and Dundee Port.
Heading east from the Central Waterfront – where the public sector investment is around ￡75m - towards the Tay Road Bridge, a significant infrastucture project has been completed to take the run-off water from Dundee’s hills to prevent flash flooding.
A massive hidden tank area will take tens of millions of litres sitting underneath an extended Castle Street, which will again have access to the waterfront.
“We are future-proofing this is terms of rising sea-levels too. This is an essential piece of infrastructure for the waterfront area and once it is landscaped, no-one will know it is here.” The Hilton Hotel is a 1960s eyesore and there are discussions to see if it can be demolished and rebuilt. Nearby, the Tay Road Bridge, which was opened by the Queen in August 1966, is having the run-off ramps shortened to give more space for the regeneration.
This will free up more space for development. Further along the waterfront, going under the road bridge, the historic harbour area of City Quay, then leads to the Camperdown Dock and the supply ships for the North Sea energy and renewable industry.
Then there is the prospect of more cruise ships berthing, with tourists visiting Dundee, St Andrews, which is 12 miles away, or Glamis Castle.
“Dundee is a fantastic base for a lot of these tours,” says Galloway. “There is an amazing dock complex here: much of it Grade A listed. Dundee was extended in the 18th century and reclaimed land extended the dock to its present waterfront. We have been working to uncover some of the old docklands which are hidden behind the current breakwater.
“Our proposal is to open a marina at City Quay but we need to create a new sea lock where boats can have 24-hours access to the estuary. At the moment it works on tidal access. We will be sorting this out with a ￡2.5m project.”
With the V&A at Dundee as an anchor, Galloway and his team are working to attract a new five-star hotel next door that will service the international visitors and art critics they hope will put Dundee on their itineraries.
Next door, the waterfront 1960s Olympia Leisure Centre, with its swimming pools and flumes, is being re-located, with the addition of a 50-metre swimming pool, one of only a handful in Scotland; while Michael Carolan, an oil explorer with property interests through MEC Services has been refurbishing the old Tay Hotel and Malmaison Hotels has signed a 30-year lease for the building which opens in May next year.
Mike Galloway is also deeply impressed with the work of local property group Unicorn, an award-winning company set up in 2005 and working in the City Quay area.
Tim Allan, the director, has said that successful cities utilising the waterfront cities have to have a ‘delightful’ aspect and he feels strongly that V&A and the other regeneration projects will create a new urban dynamism, a view shared by leading digital entrepreneur, Chris Van der Kuyl, who anticipates Dundee having a world-class waterfront to match Sydney with the Opera House.
Tim Allan and his Unicorn colleagues, Peter Hookham and Steven Garry, have already finished several buildings on City Quay, including the landmark Clocktower development overlooking the Victoria Dock, Dundee One, a waterside office block for digital business with spectacular views, and the redevelopment of the Panmure Shipyard, the site of the original shipwrights who built Captain Scott’s Discovery.
Mike Galloway feels that the Panmure development, with Chandler’s Lane, its historic Victorian cobbled street and converted heritage homes, alongside modern townhouses, is typical of the developments that will attract Dundee’s next generation of city dwellers.
The development also pleases Allan Watt, who explains that Unicorn also invested ￡18m on River Court and City Court, which is owned by the Scottish Police Service Authority serving as Dundee’s own CSI.
“The next phase that we are about to see will radically transform the city’s appearance and transform perceptions of the city.
This is important in attracting and retaining key talent around life sciences, renewable energy and digital media,” he says.
To the west of the Central Waterfront, there is Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre, which has also been a catalyst for artistic life in the city, the Science Centre, and Vision, a refurbished jute factory, which extends into the caverns in the cliff.
This is for start-up businesses, with room for sound studios at the back where there is no light.
“The plan is to extend this area into the Seabraes zone, where there is a large piece of land which we own. This is the old railway goods sidings and was bought by Scottish Enterprise from Railtrack a number of years ago. We are going to create a Container City using ship’s containers in a very contemporary way to create low-cost flexible space for creative industries, particularly digital media.
Although minutes from the University, District 10 as it will be known, was an unknown area of Dundee because it was surrounded by a high wall, and as far as the citizens on Dundee were concerned there was no direct access to the waterfront.” Dundee has a high proportion of graduates in the overall population with around 40,000 students who are important to the local economy, but too many of them disappear once their education is completed.
Watt says: “We’d like to keep them in the city – or at least to come back to the city in due course.
To do that, we need to find the right sort of work environment and the right quality of lifestyle.” Dundee has already built a new multi-storey car park to soak up some of the sprawling car parks that once fanned out over the area.
Dundee station – and probably the Tannoy announcer – is also being redeveloped with a hotel on the upper floor and new retail around, leading downstairs to covered platforms, which will be replaced before 2015.
Then there is the Tesco conundrum.The supermarket chain has a store on the waterfront with a sprawling car park and petrol station.
It would be in keeping if they could look at something more aesthetically fitting for Dundee’s ambition.