Architect asked to work Bilbao magic on Dundee skyline

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The Independent Online

Dundee, famous for jute, jam and journalism, is to call upon one of the world's leading architects to modernise the city and turn it into a renowned tourist attraction.

Situated on the banks of the river Tay in north-east Scotland, Dundee enjoys one of the best estuary settings in Europe and has the potential for a stunning skyline, but its streets have been blighted in recent years by ugly developments.

Now the council wants to recruit Frank Gehry, the architect responsible for some of the world's finest contemporary buildings, including the celebrated Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to help to transform the city centre and waterfront in a 30-year project that would cost £1bn.

Gehry has already designed a building in Dundee - a counselling facility for cancer sufferers, which has zig-zagging steel roof and curved walls. Gehry saidthe building had been inspired by the landscape of the Tay.

Charles McKean, a key figure in the project and a professor of architectural history at Dundee University, said the plans represented a "once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I don't think we would get a Guggenheim, but what we could get would be a great flagship building, and many more smaller buildings, which would create a whole new image for Dundee," he said.

Dundee's waterfront skyline is dominated by a dilapidated 1970s tower block, a derelict DIY centre and two huge concrete bunkers hosting a swimming pool and a Hilton hotel. Professor McKean said the area was not the sort of place to attract visitors "unless it was dark.

"Dundee has been plagued for years by short-termism, especially by the developments that went on in the 1960s," he said. "The Tay is a wonderful river and we should be trying to integrate the water with the buildings."

The plans, which revolve around a central building designed by Gehry, include extending the town centre to the river and replacing existing clumsy car parks and the city's inner ring road with tree-lined boulevards and a new railway station.

Jack Searle, chairman of Dundee Civic Trust, said: "The general idea is to bridge the massive gap between the city centre and the river waterfront, to make some sort of connection between the two.

"But before we talk about possible buildings, we need to establish an infrastructure and general plan, so things are at a very early stage.

"I'm not sure if Frank Gehry would play any significant role in the planning process because as far as I am aware he operates exclusively as an architect, although I have no doubt he could design some beautiful buildings to add to the waterfront development.

"I would like to see something built that would reflect the role and importance and location of Dundee."

Jill Shimi, administration leader of Dundee City Council, has also welcomed Gehry's involvement.

"A lot of groundwork has still to be done and plans are at an early stage, but we hope that Frank Gehry will be able to help us with some of the specific details when the time comes," she said.

"Dundee has one of the best estuary settings in Europe and it would certainly be fitting to have an architect of Frank Gehry's international status working on the Central Waterfront project."