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My Favourite Building - the DCA

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15 Oct 2004

Mike Galloway loves the DCA because it caters for all, from schoolchildren to clubbers, and for what it has done for the regeneration of Dundee.

When the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre was first conceived in 1996, it was a leap of faith by the city to attempt to use culture as regeneration tool. DCA was a bold and risky venture, not only financially but also politically and architecturally. The fact that, since its opening in 1999, it has been a resounding success on each of these grounds is down to a number of key factors.
First, the diverse nature of the partners involved in the project and the mixed activities housed in the building give it a broad base from which to operate as a cultural icon not only in Dundee but also for the east coast of Scotland. Furthermore, DCA’s pivotal location as an anchor within Dundee’s emerging Cultural Quarter allows it to enjoy one of the highest pedestrian footfalls of any such centre in the country; as a result it’s the only arts centre I know that needs bouncers on the door!

The Dundee public’s reaction to DCA has been equally pivotal in its success. There was a real danger that the building could be seen by many Dundonians as irrelevant to the city’s economic and social regeneration and to its architectural heritage. However, people from all sections of society have embraced it both as a new landmark in the city and as a place they can use and enjoy.

I am impressed by the way DCA uses the fourth dimension of time; the building continually changes throughout the day. Starting with the blue rinse brigade having morning coffee, then business suits having lunch, then school children visiting the galleries and educational centre, then digital geeks working in the bowels of the Visual Research Centre, then trendy evening diners in the restaurant, before, finally, the day ends with the building bouncing with clubbers until the small hours. A truly multi-purpose building that has something for everyone.

For me, however, the real joy of the building is the way that Richard Murphy has deconstructed a former multi-level brick garage and sewn a series of faceted contemporary planes of render, copper, steel and glass into the old structure. This creates an external design that appeals to modernist and conservationist alike, while the interior is formed around a progression of cool minimalist spaces which effortlessly pull people through the building’s five levels of galleries, workshops, cinemas, bar, restaurant, offices and shop while giving glimpse views of the river, the city and the sky.

The curved front elevation onto Perth Road juts out into the street scene like the prow of a ship, signalling the building’s presence from all directions while creating a positive tension with the adjacent listed buildings. The rear elevation faces on to a new square at the entrance to Dundee’s new Science Centre and Digital Media Park and is more massive in scale. This is broken down by the use of multiple planes of new and old materials, but it is still a very visible landmark when viewed from the other side of the Tay Estuary. The L-shaped plan form allows the building to wrap around and cradle the former Provosts’ House with a space that steps down the old sea cliff and allows the café/bar to spill outdoors on warm and even not so warm days.

DCA is my favourite building not only because I can delight in being personally able to use it for leisure and work, but because of what it has contributed towards my city’s regeneration efforts and my fellow Dundonians’ views on modern architecture.

Mike Galloway
Director of Planning & Transportation
Dundee City Council

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