RUTH Wishart's latest weekly column is dedicated to the impressive new V & A museum in Dundee.


WHEN I first saw her she was half dressed; a jumble of concrete slabs waiting to be lifted into place, and unfinished stairwells leading to spaces without walls.

But even then, during a hard hat tour, you could grasp the extraordinary vision of Japanese designer Kango Kuma as he created his modern masterpiece jutting into the Tay. Dundee’s V&A is one of the most stunning modern buildings Scotland has ever commissioned.

When I first glimpsed the finished article, driving through Dundee en route to friends in St Andrews last weekend, I had a moment of disappointment. What had been open spaces on the town side of the building was now a clutch of offices and hotels.

The Discovery – the handsome three masted wooden sailing ship which had carried Scott and Shackleton to the Antarctic – seemed almost shrunken, dwarfed by the new museum on one side and the Discovery Experience building on the other.

But the next day I made my first visit inside, and those initial doubts pretty well disappeared. Viewed from the second floor restaurant and terrace, The Discovery loomed handsomely large again. And, fittingly, it was seagoing craft which formed the centrepiece of the new attraction’s first exhibition.

Ocean Liners; Speed and Style offers an extraordinary tour of an age when people travelled world wide aboard craft which had the most elaborate interiors. A total contrast to those tenements with keels which parade around the seas today, here were sleek craft with beautiful exteriors, and interiors which boasted luxurious and beautifully crafted accommodation and leisure facilities for those who could afford it.

Even the advertising posters for these voyages were, quite literally, works of art, as top designers were commissioned by rival lines from the UK, USA, France, and Japan amongst others to tempt the jaded travelling public.

The exhibition has a stunning array of those, before you are propelled into galleries featuring furnishings and fittings which wouldn’t disgrace the most well appointed stately pile. And all, of course, marvellously evocative of their era.

The chest swells with vicarious pride in the room featuring all the elements of the Clydebuilt craft, from the shining engines and propellers to the fascinating three dimensional plan featuring every plate to be riveted, its dimensions, and its place in this giant engineering jigsaw.

And of course there are other design delights elsewhere, the lovingly restored Mackintosh Oak Room, part of an eclectic collection of Scottish design from a Christopher Kane evening gown, to a tapestry of the Glasgow coat of arms.

You can even, if you’re so inclined, build a Hunter welly boot on screen from a selection of the component parts.

Some visitors I gather, mainly locals, have complained that there is too much wasted space in the vast interior with its slatted wooden walls. Another view is that that very spaciousness offers a pleasing contrast to the concrete exterior, not least since the design offers windows on the outside world at regular intervals.

And the way it’s sited these views are all of the river, the bridges, and the Fife scenery – not of the architectural jumble of new buildings behind. I’ll be back.