Building Iconic Statements After Bilbao

March 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

It was billed as a new museum to revive the fortunes of an ailing Scottish city — just as a branch of the Guggenheim in Spain has transformed Bilbao — but months after the winning design for the V&A at Dundee was announced, serious doubts have emerged over the final cost of the building.

Experts who have studied drawings produced by Kengo Kuma, the Japanese winner of an international competition, are adamant that the museum could easily double or treble in price, not least because the planned structure is almost twice as big as any building intended for the site. One described the “massive and inevitable hike in cost” as indefensible.

Critics allege that the winning blueprints barely conceal the hidden costs. Two floors shown in cross-section are shaded out, and not included in the cost-per-square-metre price calculation. Nor is a plant room depicted, normally between 15 and 20 per cent of the budget in a building of this type.

The museum’s most striking features are likely to come at a heavy price, say experts, including the dramatic, spaceship-like sloping walls that also increase the volume inside the building. On the exterior, the surface area is huge and Kuma’s striking finish is created from a complex design that will be difficult to construct.

The saving grace for the V&A can be found in a remarkable quirk of the funding package. The world-famous institution is not obliged to meet any of the building costs. Instead, its outpost in Dundee, planned to house 20th century design products, will be funded by £15 million of Scottish government money, supplemented to the tune of £30 million by lottery funds, European grants and commercial sponsorship.

No one involved in the project questions the need for regeneration. Dundee made its name on “the three Js” — jute, journalism and jam — but these assets have long since dwindled away.

Production of jute, a fibre used to make sacking and ropes, ceased in the 1970s while D.C. Thomson, the publisher of The Beano, announced the closure of a print works last year. As for jam production, even at its height, it employed only a few hundred people in the city.

Instead, Dundee has recast itself as a centre both for medical research and computer games technology. But, with the global economic downturn, a high-profile tourist attraction had a seductive appeal to the organisers of the V&A at Dundee competition.

Financial rigour was insisted upon from the outset. In the briefing document issued by Mike Galloway, Dundee’s director of city development, the first point under the heading “assessment criteria read: “Demonstration of ability to adhere to target Construction Cost (only submissions which achieve this requirement will be considered further).”

Accordingly, in August, the construction cost was explicitly set at £31 million, including fixtures and fittings. A further £14 million was assigned for fees, inflation and a contingency total cost of £45million within the total project budget.

It was a tight financial regime for such a grandiose scheme. Compounding the problems facing the architects were the demands of the location, by the estuary. From here, the last remains of the first Tay Bridge, swept away in 1879 are still visible, the grimmest possible reminder of the challenging nature of the site.

To overcome this obstacle, Dundee Waterfront Project, the public partnership leading regeneration along the Tay estuary, pledged £4 million for piling and piers to secure the museum site. Design teams were warned that any extra engineering costs required by an overly-ambitious design would have to be met from the budget for the building.

Eight weeks later, having overcome such a stringent brief, professionals involved in all the rival design teams were astonished when Kuma’s design was proclaimed the winner by Sir Mark Jones, the Director of the V&A.

The scale is immense. Instead of the 6000 square metres specified in the brief, critics say that once the mysterious missing floors are taken into account, it will measure up to 9000 square metres, while the entire site enclosure could run to much more. The museum requires the construction of a massive man-made headland protruding into the estuary.

Size alone, say experts, will almost inevitably drive up costs dramatically, requiring more heavily engineered foundations, higher expenditure on the fit-out, and more complex access.

Last night, the V&A at Dundee insisted that Kuma’s “conceptual submission” was deliverable within budget.

A spokesman said: “The estimated cost of construction, allowing for fixtures, fittings, inflation and fees, remains within the budget published at the outset of the competition and we remain confident of delivering the entire project for £45 million. Detailed questions were asked of the Kengo Kuma team prior to the contract being awarded to ensure their vision could be delivered on cost and their response was scrutinised by external assessors who were satisfied that the project could be completed within budget.

“The design team recently met and confirmed with the architect that the budget will not be changing, and they were entirely happy with that.”

Critics remain doubtful. The opening date has already slipped from late 2014 to early 2015, and professional bodies, academics and architects consulted by The Times already compare the V&A at Dundee with another ill-starred Scotttish building project, whose budget expanded tenfold. “There is not a chance that this could be built within that budget, not a hope in hell,” said one leading architect. “It is like the Scottish parliament revisited, and we do not need another Scottish parliament.”

The Scottish parliament, initially costed at about £40 million, was finally built for more than £400 million.

 

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