V&A Dundee public realm

V&A Dundee is a hugely significant project for Dundee, and has played a key role in promoting the city as a place of innovation and creativity. It opened in September 2018 and has since attracted well over 500,000 visitors and garnered numerous awards and global accolades. The design team and client worked closely to ensure the architecture and landscape combined to form a truly exceptional project that furthers the city’s global reputation and cements Dundee as a vibrant place to live, work and visit. This international profile was of particular relevance and importance to Dundee City Council (DCC) as client, alongside the successful integration of the project into the wider masterplan.

The city sits on the impressive Firth of Tay in north-eastern Scotland, and is mid-way through a 30-year regeneration masterplan to re-connect the city to the waterfront. Avenues, public spaces and a new railway station have been delivered which set the framework for future development and also accommodates the RRS Discovery, a cherished symbol of Dundee’s pioneering spirit and connections with the sea.

The landscape proposals include the setting for an landmark piece of architecture. V&A Dundee architect Kengo Kuma was inspired by the landscape of north-east Scotland, and in particular the striations of the rocky coastline which inform the building’s distinctive angular forms. The result is a new landmark which encourages people to move around it, experiencing the building against the backdrop of the river, city and RRS Discovery.

A combination of city, river, arrival, nature, heritage and setting of new architecture therefore provides the context for the landscape at V&A Dundee.

A central concept for the project was to set the building in water as a reference to the infilled dock structures and to blur the boundary between land and water. The public realm was also to integrate with the wider masterplan, facilitating walking and cycling routes and providing a destination that draws people to the waterfront, provides spaces for events and emphasises connections between the city and the river.

OPEN led the development of the landscape proposals working with Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA) and the rest of the team from Stage 2 through to Stage 6. This included:
- The development of concept proposals (Stage 2);
- The production of information in support of the detailed planning application (Stage 3);
- Development of tender information (Stage 4);
- Full construction related services associated with the traditional contract (Stage 5); and
- Inspection at practical and final completion (Stage 6).

OPEN also contributed to client presentations and engaged with stakeholders within DCC to ensure the proposals could be effectively managed and maintained.

V&A Dundee has been a truly significant project for Dundee, and has played a huge part in elevating its status as a city of design and innovation. The public realm has successfully integrated the landmark building into the fabric of the city, allowing people to explore the architecture, enjoy the waterfront, view RRS Discovery in a new setting and facilitate wider opportunities to explore on foot and by bike.

The landscape at V&A Dundee is an achievement in highly refined design that is appropriate to its setting and will stand the test of time, both materially and aesthetically. It has played a part in elevating the reputation of Dundee with corresponding economic benefits. Through environmentally sensitive measures built into the landscape such as a 200m deep bore hole system for heating and cooling the building, controllable lighting and new bird boxes, the public realm at V&A demonstrates innovation within a clear concept-led scheme.

All images © Hufton+Crow.


  • Project Name

    V&A Dundee public realm

  • Location

    Dundee, Scotland

  • Category

    Public realm

  • Landscape Architect

    Optimised Environments Limited (OPEN)

  • Client

    Dundee City Council

  • Brief

    The original project brief that accompanied the international design competition set out the context and performance requirements for V&A Dundee and associated public realm. Much of the context was provided by the Central Waterfront Masterplan as V&A Dundee was to become a symbolic representation of the wider masterplan project. Central to this was the following vision: ‘The project partners share a vision to create a venue in Dundee which will be Scotland’s leading centre for creative design; the ‘V&A at Dundee’ will inform and enthuse visitors about the applied arts and design and their importance to emerging new economies in the city region and throughout Scotland and will create a world class cultural institution on the River Tay that will be pivotal in the regeneration of the City of Dundee and its Waterfront.’ Core values were established, which applied to the public realm and landscape as well as the rest of the project. These included: - Highest quality: of design, delivery, people and content; - Accessibility: to local people, visitors, professionals and students of all ages; - Sustainability: financially, environmentally and, by refreshing content, continually relevant; - Creativity: innovative, distinctive, contemporary and future-facing; and - Ambition: confident, resourceful, stimulating and fresh-thinking. A key part of the brief was how V&A Dundee would contribute to the wider urban regeneration, and how it connects into the fabric of the Central Waterfront Masterplan. This was both through the architecture providing a ‘visual anchor’ within the wider masterplan, and also how the public realm and landscape integrated V&A site with the wider masterplan, including the promotion of links to the railway station, and the provision of spaces and routes that connect with other Central Waterfront public spaces such as Slessor Gardens (now complete), Waterfront Place (currently on site) and the environs associated with RRS Discovery. Submissions were to include proposals for the proposed public realm / landscape treatment of all areas beyond the Building footprint and within the defined competition site. Aspects of the brief that relate directly to the public realm include: - Connections: The public realm at V&A Dundee was to provide a destination, but also needed to facilitate wider connections for those on foot and bike. This included cycling route NCN77 (the ‘Salmon Run’ route from Pitlochry to Dundee), the Dundee Riverside Walk, connections to the new railway station and pedestrian routes to the City Centre. - Access: Vehicular access to the site was to be restricted to service vehicles only taken from the west of the site. Car parking for visitors and staff was to be provided off-site within walking distance. The treatment of the site access was to create an environment that promotes pedestrians as the priority with carefully controlled vehicular access. - Quality: The Landscape proposals were to be of a sufficiently high urban quality to complement the Building design and integrate with the wider Waterfront Project. Sustainability & BREEAM: The project was to achieve BREEAM ’Excellent’ with the public realm and landscape contributing to this.

  • Awards

    Finalist, Landscape Institute Awards 2019


  • Project Team

    Client: Dundee City Council (DCC) Lead Architect: Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA) Delivery Architect: PiM.studio Architects Executive Architect: James F Stephen Architects Project Management: Turner + Townsend (T&T) Cost Consultant: CBA Civil Engineer: Arup Structural Engineer: Arup M&E Engineer: Arup Lighting Design: Arup Landscape Architect: Optimised Environments Limited Water Features: Fountains Direct

  • Local planning authority or government body

    Dundee City Council

  • Year Completed


  • Project Size

    1.6 ha

  • Contract Value

    £7.5m (infrastructure and public realm) Overall project budget: £80m

  • Optimised Environments Limited (OPEN)

    Registered Practice - (3 - 5 Employees)
  • Approximate Map Location


    Dundee, Scotland

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