V&A Dundee prepares to tell Scotland’s “unknown design history”

In an exclusive interview, V&A Dundee director Phillip Long tells us how he wants to the museum to showcase exemplary Scottish design and start new conversations between design and business.


History of the Oak Tea Room with images 14
Drawing by Sir Hugh Casson of the Oak Room in the Ingram Street Tea Rooms in 1935 when operated by Messrs Cooper, Architect and Building News, June 14, 1936

The V&A Museum of Design Dundee has revealed that an entire Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed tea-room will be reconstructed as a “centrepiece” within the museum, which is set to open in 2018.

Revealing Scotland’s unknown design history

It is an ambitious statement of intent and according to V&A Dundee director Phillip Long sets the tone for a number of agendas at the museum as it looks to tell the story of Scotland’s “unknown design history”, show exemplary contemporary Scottish design and also be part of a broader conversation about bringing business and design together.

The Mackintosh Oak Room, dubbed the “sleeping giant”, is of huge cultural significance. Designed in 1907 for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Room in Glasgow it comprises 600 pieces of oak paneling. It remained a tea-room until the early 1950s and in 1970s every single piece was salvaged. It has been in storage ever since.

The relationship between Kate Cranston and Mackintosh proved fruitful and the Ingram Street Tea Room was one of many they worked on together.

“Cranston was Mackintosh’s most important patron supporting him commercially and privately,” says Long.

The lost tea room and the lost library

The Oak Room is also a poignant reminder of the Mackintosh Library, which was lost in the Glasgow School of Art fire last year.

“As a double height room constructed of oak The Oak Room is of similar design to the library and it is widely agreed that it would have been on Mackintosh’s drawing board at the same time,” says Long.

This is most likely as the Oak Room was completed in 1908 and the Glasgow School of Art library a year later in 1909.

When reconstructed in its entirety, The Oak Room will sit in the Scottish Design Galleries at the museum, a series of spaces which will focus on Scottish achievement and showcase around 250 objects taken largely from the V&A’s own collection.

Long says the Oak Room will “celebrate, tell, educate and inspire new design” and he hints that there will be more acquisitions to come.

International focus

“Around 70% of objects will come from the V&A collections but there’ll be loans with other museums and galleries in Scotland and internationally. Given how fast certain aspects of contemporary design develop we might be looking to acquire other things nearer to opening,” according to Long who says: “We’ll also be talking to individual design businesses and designers.”

While the design galleries will tell the story of Scottish design from 1800 up until the present day the museum will take a broad view of what design is – “Design as process, design that changes and improves lives, service design, urban planning… rather than just design and the decorative arts,” says Long.

Part of this will mean telling Scotland’s design story as an international one and involve work by the like of fashion designer Christopher Cane and Jaguar design director Ian Callum.

Meanwhile there will be major temporary exhibitions, which will bring the international design world to the museum, and some V&A London exhibitions will come to Dundee.

It may be possible for that relationship to be symbiotic and for Dundee shows to head to London, says Long.

Bringing together designers and businesses at the new museum

One of his prevailing aspirations is for the museum to be a place where relationships between designers are fostered.

“There will be learning and engagement programmes and we’ll bring designers and businesses together to look at how we can make those businesses more profitable, more creative and more sustainable.

“Active programmes will explore what a design-directed view of business can achieve and there could be residencies for businesses and designers which might become motivating factors for new creativity.”

Tenders and opportunities

If the museum hits its summer 2018 opening target it will be able to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth. This is quite fortuitous as it was originally meant to open last year. Costs have crept up as well to around £80 million (£30 million over budget) but it’s cultural and perhaps economic value could pay dividends.

The design and fit out of the museum has been contracted to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, a move which underpins its international feel, says Long.

Many more design opportunities will transpire though, including restaurant, café and retail spaces as well as furniture for the museum.

There is a tender just around the corner for specialist restoration work on the Oak Room and next year there will be a separate tender for the overall exhibition design of the Scottish Design Galleries, which will house it.

If you want to better understand how the design is coming together, look out for V&A Dundee at London Design Festival in September, where an architectural model with augmented reality functionality will be on display.

Discover more:

Scottish Government pledges more cash to V&A Dundee as budget balloons

• V&A Dundee goes on tour

• New Charles Rennie Mackintosh centre planned in Glasgow

• Glasgow School of Art sets out restoration plan following fire

Glasgow School of Art fire – library lost but much of the building saved


Floor plan

Mackintosh Tearoom Restoration at V&A Dundee's Scottish Design Galleries. Left Joanna Norman, Senior Curator, V&A and right Alison Brown Curator, European Decorative Art from 1800. At the Kelvingrove Musuem in Glasgow with a scaled model of the Oak Room. Picture Robert Perry 8th July 2015 Must credit photo to Robert Perry Image is free to use in connection with the promotion of the above company or organisation. 'Permissions for ALL other uses need to be sought and payment make be required. Note to Editors:  This image is free to be used editorially in the promotion of the above company or organisation.  Without prejudice ALL other licences without prior consent will be deemed a breach of copyright under the 1988. Copyright Design and Patents Act  and will be subject to payment or legal action, where appropriate. www.robertperry.co.uk NB -This image is not to be distributed without the prior consent of the copyright holder. in using this image you agree to abide by terms and conditions as stated in this caption. All monies payable to Robert Perry (PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE THIS CAPTION) This image is intended for Editorial use (e.g. news). Any commercial or promotional use requires additional clearance.  Copyright 2014 All rights protected. first use only contact details Robert Perry      07702 631 477 robertperryphotos@gmail.com         Robert Perry reserves the right to pursue unauthorised use of this image . If you violate my intellectual property you may be liable for  damages, loss of income, and profits you derive from the use of this image.
Mackintosh Tearoom Restoration at V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries. Left Joanna Norman, senior curator, and right Alison Brown curator of European decorative art from 1800. Picture Robert Perry.
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