IF a city can have a catchphrase, for the past few years Dundee has resounded to “It’s coming on, eh?”. Perhaps not the catchiest and not really a phrase, but a semi-rhetorical question with a ring of cautious optimism. The “it” that was “coming on” is the new V&A Dundee, which has been hosting a week of events prior to its opening to the public yesterday. From a hole in the ground to a hulking framework to the jaw-dropping lines and curves of the completed structure, the progress of the Scottish design museum has been watched closely for eight years.

Much has been written about the Guggenheim effect on Bilbao, and the catalytic effect of landmark architecture on economic regeneration, but the Dundee Waterfront regeneration masterplan was drawn up in 1998, long before the V&A had plans for expansion.

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Mistakes had been made. The drab and bloated Earl Grey Hilton sat on this stretch for 25 years from 1988 and the Olympia, a modern centre when built in 1970, became a lifeless structure on the river for several years before being demolished in 2013 (and rebuilt elsewhere) as part of the Waterfront plan.

There was also dancing in the streets that year when Tayside House, a brutalist local government office block that overshadowed the rear of the Caird Hall, disappeared.

How the V&A arrived here is a tale in itself. The University of Dundee pitched the idea to Sir Mark Jones, then director of the V&A and a former director of the National Museums of Scotland, in the early 2000s.

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The 15-minute pitch convinced him to visit the city and explore not only the regeneration plans but also the strong educational base that a project of this scale would require. Once agreed, the University of Dundee was joined by Abertay University, Dundee City Council and Scottish Enterprise as founding partners.

By 2010, the building was chosen by a public vote from a shortlist of six. The winner, Japanese architects Kengo Kuma and Associates, delivered a design inspired by the dramatic

Arbroath cliffs, 16 miles up the coast.

Eight years on, during the week of events leading up to the opening, Kuma has been treated as a rock star, posing for photographs and autographing prints of his original drawing, on sale in the gift shop for £5. He has visited Dundee more than 20 times in eight years, and admits to a growing affection for the landscapes and, he smiles, the whisky.

When he heads home, it will be time to concentrate on his next large-scale project – the

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium. Not quite as tough a gig as pleasing all Dundonians perhaps.

For now he’s sitting on a wooden bench on the upper floor of the V&A Dundee, where the galleries are located. He looks around, as if he’s looking at it for the first time, and says: “It’s an emotional experience to walk into this completed building. It only comes to life when people are looking at the details and enjoying the spaces. It is still something of a dream.”

Connections with nature are an important part of his work and the proposed location was particularly interesting to him. “There was a separation between the river and the city. We saw that this building could be part of a reconnection, with the exterior resembling sea cliffs. That connection between nature and humans is important. That’s why I’m so happy that this building has the Oak Room by Charles Rennie Mackintosh – he is a real hero of mine.”

Kuma’s promise of snapshots of the outside world delivered through windows in the wooden slatted interior have delivered – precisely located postcards, inviting you to look out as well as in. Despite the scale of the public spaces, they are warm and welcoming. He describes this building as “a living room for the city”, but even on opening days he seems relaxed and wasn’t reaching for coasters to protect it from coffee cup rings.

From the initial stages, the V&A team has endeavoured to make Dundonians feel comfortable with the building and share what it’s trying to achieve. Director Philip Long recruited learning teams early, who were not only active in schools and communities, but also hit the road in 2015, when the Design in Motion bus took the work of seven contemporary designers to 85 locations across Scotland then on to the V&A in London.

“We have worked with communities of all ages and have no particular audience,” says Long. “Of course, we would like to inspire young people – a museum of design is as much about future creativity as well as celebrating past achievements.”

The V&A in London also brought visiting exhibitions to The McManus Galleries, now 151 years old. The lasting importance of The McManus to the city is not lost on Long. Neither is the cumulative effect of The McManus, Dundee Rep, the Scottish Dance Theatre, the Dundee Heritage Trust properties at Verdant Works and Discovery Point, and perhaps most importantly, Dundee Contemporary Arts. All these, plus the V&A, have brought us to the point where Dundee is the UK’s Unesco City of Design.

THE McManus was a huge part of my childhood. I would visit most Saturdays, wandering the galleries and finding out about my city’s history and life far beyond. To be in the presence of a giant whale skeleton, a prehistoric boat, or torture implements from medieval Dundee fired the 10-year-old imagination.

“Museums have always been powerful buildings and still are, they are vital to civic life,” adds Long.

It seems the world’s media agrees. Both V&A preview days were attended by a mix of Scottish, UK, and international writers and film crews. In territories where Scotland is already a strong tourism pull, Dundee is asserting itself as a player in the short-break market.

Even before the doors of the V&A opened, before this year’s Open at Carnoustie, before the new railway station opened in July, Dundee hotels saw an occupancy rise of almost 10% from April 2017 to 2018.

For a Dundonian who spent the 1990s working away from the city, this is sweet. Certainly sweeter than “Scumdee” jibes from people who “hadn’t been but had driven through it”. With Glasgow basking in the sheen of its City of Culture status, Dundee became the post-industrial scapegoat.

However, those with the fluffiest pom-poms, cheerleading V&A Dundee to the world, are realistic that they don’t have everyone on side and many still feel disenfranchised.

“Of course there are people who aren’t feeling the benefits yet. To me that’s the motivation to make sure that the ripple effect covers the entire city,” says John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council. “I was brought up in a housing scheme called Kirkton and I live in our Lochee ward. I know that there is far too much poverty and deprivation in the city.

“There are always people who look at the big figures and don’t understand why that money isn’t being spent elsewhere. The council spent £6.5 million on a project that cost £80m. We have been trying to get the message through that the £74m raised from external sources wouldn’t have come here otherwise. It wouldn’t have come to the city if we hadn’t been willing to take the risk. And it was a risk.”

He points out three hotel developments in sight of the museum, totalling £60m in investment, as well as recent wins with Cherwell Software, a US tech research and development company setting up a European headquarters and Chinese Ocean Engineering Shanghai adding to the decommissioning work at Dundee Port.

Both of these, he says, are the direct result of the attention that has come via the V&A. “We simply weren’t on their radar before. Also, the beauty of the Waterfront development is that the council has ownership of the land, so we can leverage in community benefits. That means investors creating modern apprenticeships, people going straight out of unemployment into work, and earning the living wage.

“Every detail counts. The front desk in the V&A was created by Dovetail, a social enterprise company getting people back to work.”

The prospect of a wealth of hospitality sector jobs has been tackled by Dundee and Angus College. “We are training people to provide good service in these hotels,” says principal Grant Ritchie. “Already our chefs are getting jobs straight from finishing their courses, which is tremendous. Our sports graduates can get work in hotel gyms, and the hairdressers and beauty therapists can work in saunas and spas. The travel and tourism students have already been greeting cruise ships and taking visitors on tours.

“These are real jobs for young folk that will never achieve massively in a traditional academic way, perhaps because of a background of endemic poverty. We need to be realistic that not all teenagers will get into our computer games or life-sciences industries, but these service sector jobs can take them far – if they do good work with a big hotel chain they could be off around the world. If these jobs are lifting people out of poverty and unemployment, then we should welcome them with open arms.”

The V&A has retained strong links with the city’s culture. The Scottish Design Galleries are named after DM Brown, a legendary department store, and famous city names like Thomson and Michelin are featured in the galleries and learning centres.

The vast 1100sqm Exhibition Gallery is the largest temporary exhibition space in Scotland. The opening exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed And Style has more space here than it did at its London presentation. The 550sqm Scottish Design Galleries offers our design history in 300 objects, from textiles to engineering to graphic art to furniture, technology and even the Fair Isle.

The 3D opening festival offered music, but also dance, community involvement, and a spectacular Hello World sound and light show by Biome Collective and Agency of None on Friday evening. Saturday was dedicated to Dundee talent with Gary Clark (Danny Wilson) headlining. “I never perform live, but this was something I couldn’t turn down,” he says. “I came back to Dundee five years ago and already saw some changes, but I still think people are underestimating the power of the V&A to Dundee.”

When Clark and his wife lived in LA, they rented the Tyler House, a 1950s architectural gem by John Lautner. “Buses would pull up in front of the house just to see it. There is the real pull of architectural tourism to consider here too.”

For now, let’s allow ourselves time to enjoy the building. To look at the 20 different elevations. To view it from across the Tay in Fife.

I’ll be back, often, and hope to see mini-mes in the Scottish Design Galleries, lingering at those exhibits which inspire big ideas about what their lives can be.

V&A Dundee opened yesterday. Free entry to museum and Scottish Design Galleries. Tickets £6 to £12 for Ocean Liners: Speed And Style.