Scottish Design Galleries: a beginner's guide

Our Scottish Design Galleries, the heart of V&A Dundee, are the first in the world dedicated to telling the extraordinary story of Scottish design.

Consisting of around 300 beautiful and innovative objects representing a wide range of design disciplines, our Scottish Design Galleries explore Scotland’s unique design landscape, both historically and today. Discover the everyday relevance of design and how it improves lives, as well as experience the processes which underpin Scottish design.

“The influence of Scottish design is not limited to one country, it has been felt around the world,” says Joanna Norman, Director of the V&A Research Institute at V&A South Kensington and Lead Curator of the Scottish Design Galleries. “Drawing on the V&A’s world-famous collections of art, design and performance, it has taken several years of careful research to establish this unique collection of objects which together will tell a fascinating and relatively unknown story.”

Containing a wide range of objects, from furniture, textiles, metalwork and ceramics, to fashion, architecture, engineering and digital design, the space is divided into three sections. The first looks at design as a collaborative process, in which designers and makers draw on what is around them for inspiration. The second section focuses on how design influences and shapes the places we live and the way we do things. The final section explores how design can be used to tell stories and spark the imagination.

Whether you're able to visit or not, here is an overview of some of the highlight objects in the galleries. The oldest item in the collection is a 15th century book of illuminated manuscripts. This exquisite Book of Hours, decorated with painted miniatures, was made in Rouen in northern France around 1480, making it the oldest object in the Scottish Design Galleries.

Every Book of Hours is unique and usually contains Christian text, prayers and psalms. The month-by-month calendar of feast days in this book includes several Scottish saints, including St Monan, indicating that it was made for a Scottish owner.

From the oldest object in the gallery to the most recent: a video game designed by Glasgow-based games studio The Secret Experiment. Penned for an early-2018 release, Beckett is a surreal noir and will be one of the most contemporary objects represented in the Scottish Design Galleries when we open.

The first confirmed Scottish Design Gallery object was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room which has been restored, conserved and reconstructed and forms the centrepiece of the galleries in a major partnership with Glasgow Museums. Unseen for 50 years, the tearoom is one of the world-famous architect’s most important unknown interiors, close in design and ambition to the now lost Glasgow School of Art library.

From the largest object in the gallery, to one of the smallest. This spectacular diamond-winged tiara was commissioned by the late Mary Crewe-Milnes, Duchess of Roxburghe. Inspired by the winged helmets worn by the heroines of Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, the tiara is the last of its type ever made by Cartier. The piece, known as a Valkyrie tiara after the eponymous figures from Norse mythology, comprises more than 2,500 cushion-shaped, single-cut, circular-cut and rose-cut diamonds, set in a gold and silver frame.

A stunning dress designed by Holly Fulton and emblazoned with lips is another highlight. This dress was part of Fulton’s Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, which was loosely inspired by the love affair between the Duke of Westminster and the French fashion designer Coco Chanel, set against the backdrop of the Duke’s Scottish estate.

Born in Edinburgh in 1977 and having studied at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art, Fulton is a multi-award-winning designer, particularly known for her characteristic hand-drawn prints. In contrast to Fulton’s bold fashion piece, the Scottish Design Galleries also features a Jacobite garter made in around 1745 to allow its wearer to express their loyalty to the Jacobite cause in secret.

One of the more unusual objects in the gallery is a geometric elephant, designed by Scottish artist and designer Eduardo Paolozzi. The elephant is a case with a lid designed to contain the Nairn Floors catalogue for 1972-3.

Linoleum was a revolutionary product when it was invented in 1863 because it was hard-wearing, easy to clean and affordable, and Nairn Floors Ltd, based in the Fife town of Kirkcaldy, was one of the most important firms for the design and manufacture of linoleum in the world. Another material to revolutionise our lives was vulcanised rubber, so it’s fitting that the Scottish Design Galleries showcases a pair of Hunter wellington boots. Constructed of 28 pieces of 100 per cent rubber, the design makes the boots entirely waterproof. Originally called the North British Rubber Company, the business was founded in Edinburgh in 1856.

Another highlight object in the Scottish Design Galleries is a model of Maggie’s Dundee, opened in 2003 and the first UK building designed by the internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry. Maggie’s Centres was founded by Maggie Keswick Jencks, her husband Charles Jencks and her cancer nurse Laura Lee, in response to Maggie’s own experience of cancer. Gehry’s design is consciously domestic in scale and recalls traditional Scottish architecture. The white-harled exterior reflects traditional Scottish building techniques, and the tower recalls the drystone conical Iron Age brochs.

The brief for all Maggie’s Centres is the same: to offer free, practical and emotional support for all people living with cancer, and their family and friends, in an uplifting environment through its architectural design. This pioneering approach can now be seen in 21 Maggie’s Centres in the UK and abroad, designed by a wide range of architects who have all responded to the same brief in very different ways.

Another contemporary health-related object featured in the Scottish Design Galleries is snap40, designed by Christopher McCann and Stewart Whiting. This cutting edge wearable device uses artificial intelligence to monitor a hospital patient’s vital signs, alerting physicians and nurses via wireless technology if there is a problem.

Further highlights of the galleries include a lavish throne chair designed by artist Robert Home; an 18th century Highland pistol, distinctively shaped and intricately decorated and made entirely of steel; a Glasgow style bookcase designed by George Logan to be exhibited at the 1901 Glasgow Exhibition; a Victorian photograph of the Forth Bridge taken shortly after the bridge was completed in 1889; and artwork by David Law for a Dennis the Menace comic strip made for publication in the Beano on 30th April 1960.

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