V&A brings the spirit of Bilbao to Dundee

Dundee might not be the first place you'd think to open a new cultural institution. Paris, yes, Venice, definitely, but not Dundee, home of marmalade, Dennis the Menace, and little else.

But one of the world's most prestigious museums, London's V&A, has unveiled designs for its first outpost outside the capital, in snazzy new £47m premises on the banks of Bonnie Dundee's river Tay.

Architects from around the world have been shortlisted for the opportunity to revitalise the city's drab waterfront by concocting blueprints for a sleek modern building, marking something of an image change for the city.

The shortlisted designs include a building sunk into the river bed by US architect Stephen Holl and a rock-shaped building which balances precipitously by Vienna-based firm Delugan Meissl.

"This is the opportunity to show that good design can transform the image of a city," said Moira Gemmill, the V&A's director of design, projects and estate. "And ultimately, as long as our building is embedded within future local development plans, it can transform and improve the area. We will bring a brand and reputation; our shows tour all over the world and there isn't another exhibition space that could cope with the shows we generate."

Dundee is famous for the three "Js" – jute, a soft form of cloth made from vegetables, journalism and jam. In the 18th century the city was an established centre for textile production, and made huge quantities of sail cloth that was distributed across Europe. Legend has it that local lady Janet Keillor was the first to use Seville oranges to make marmalade, hence the "jam". Local historians use "journalism" to refer to DC Thomson, publisher of The Beano, which has been based in Dundee since 1905.

But the city has also attracted its fair share of negative press. In March this year, research conducted by Travelodge revealed Dundee to be one of five "no entry" cities that domestic tourists thought of as "ugly, boring and dangerous".

Last month, a travelling community which had colonised the city's Riverside Business Park, told Dundee newspaper The Courier that they were leaving because they had been victimised by locals and had "had enough of Dundee".

Local authorities hope that the museum will bring the "Bilbao effect" to Dundee. But this phenomenon – which refers to the revitalising effect of architecture on a city's financial prospects, as exemplified by the draw of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum in the Spanish city after it opened in 1997 – is becoming increasingly dated, say critics.

"There was a time when major cultural institutions had the money and gravitas to change the entire dynamic and even identity of a city," says Domus architecture critic Beatrice Galilee. "Those days are long gone now; a distant New Labour era memory. The days where architects can produce a spectacular design then walk away, relying on the local area to absorb and magically instill pride and drive tourism are long gone."

The six shortlisted companies were chosen from more than 120 entries. A decision will be made on the preferred design in November.

Dundee memories

Brian Cox

The Shakespearean actor and star of the Bourne movies, said of his childhood home: "In our tenement my three sisters were in one room, my father and mother in another room, and my brother and I in the bed recess in the kitchen."

Sir Walter Scott

The 19th-century novelist and poet wrote: "Come fill up my cup, come fill up my cann, Come saddle my horses, and call up my man; Come open your gates, and let me gae free, I daurna [daren't] stay langer in Bonny Dundee."

Danny Wallace

The comedian and author, was born in Dundee in 1976, attending a local primary school before his family moved to Loughborough. He has since written seven books.

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