Anna: Hello and welcome to the “Design Details” tour of Dundee. I’m Anna McLuckie, I’m a local historian and I just love Dundee. I was born here and I’ve lived here all my life, mostly in Stobswell and Lochee. With me today is Kevy Clark, design guru, and fellow Dundee enthusiast. Kevy has a design practice in London and has won lots of awards.
Kevy: Hi. I’m delighted to be coming back today to my old stomping ground. I grew up in the West End and attended Duncan of Jordanstone then move to London where I setup my design practice. I’m really keen to share what makes Dundee so unique and compelling.
Anna: We’re going to take you on a tour of Dundee’s design hotspots and local enigmas, and shed some light on some of the city’s more colourful stories and secret histories.
Kevy: Dundee has such a rich design history leading up to its current status as a UNESCO City of Design and today I’ll be pointing out design features and details that may otherwise be missed.
Anna: And I’ll be filling you in on the stories and the people behind the development of the city of Dundee.
Anna: Here we have the statue of Queen Victoria, which was built in 1897 to commemorate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. As you can see she is very impressive and formidable. In her hand she’s holding a sceptre and an orb. Local legend has it that originally the orb had Dundee cake inside it, like a Victorian version of a time capsule. It had to be replaced because of repeated incidents of local people taking the orb down, and causing damage in their attempts to break it open. You can see that the orb looks very different to the rest of the statue, and is clearly not Dundee cake. Around the base of the statue you can see a frieze depicting different aspects of Dundee life. There is a wedding, representing a maid marrying the Jute baron who impregnated her. Around the side there is a poor child holding out flowers, perhaps the illegitimate child of the mill worker.
Kevy: Moving round to the back of the statue, you’ll see a representation of some trade deals being done. In Dundee, in Queen Victoria’s time, most of the design work done is depicted as belonging to the Nine Trades. This was a time before graphic designers and computer aided design existed. It was real, hands-on work and it needed a mastery of tools and a strength of body and mind. Some might say a sharp contrast to messing around on a laptop.
The representation of the nine trades is a recurring theme across the city. You will see badges, crests, symbols, coats of arms carved and on display on buildings. These are the past-time equivalent of logos, in a way. If you look at the right hand side of the statue base, beginning with the man holding a steam engine. That represents one of the trades, model steam engine building.
Anna: The anvil and hammer represent the toughness of the Dundee worker and as you go around further you can see the representations of the mills and the jute workers, leading up to the ninth trade, which is the umbrella makers. In those days, because there was no central heating, it was a daily struggle to stay dry and not get pneumonia.
Kevy: The folding umbrella design, which we’re all familiar with now, originated in Dundee and went on to be popularised all across the globe.
Anna: The ships built in Dundee came with a certain amount of free umbrellas, as an early attempt at a marketing ploy, a bit like when you’d get the toy in the cereal when you were a kid. As you move round you can see some returning soldiers, there’s a gentleman who’s been injured in some campaign who is being attended to by a nurse. He’s also surrounded by other soldiers and a doctor. Interestingly, there’s a lady, one of the great and good of Dundee, presenting a dressed herring. There’s a long-established tradition that returning troops would be presented with a dressed herring that symbolized their travel and their tenacity and usefulness.
Kevy: Turning to face away from Queen Victoria, you can see on the first and second floors of the building opposite some quite charming mid-century metal railings, currently rendered in a light blue. I am a huge advocate of modern design and as glad as it makes me to see the stylish railings here, the awful clock on the front of the building lets the whole piece down. There are some stunning modernist – or brutalist if you wish – buildings in Dundee and hopefully we will see more as the tour progresses.
Turn to your left and start walking. Keep the McManus galleries on your left-hand side and look over to your right.
Kevy: As we walk forward, keeping the Macmanus Galleries on your left-hand side and look over to the right, you’ll see a building with six large columns. This is Dundee High School, a fee-paying private school.
Anna: The facade of which has been used in several film and television productions as it perfectly replicates architecture from the last days of the Third Reich in Germany. The originals in Berlin having suffered too much Allied and Russian bomb damage.
Pause for a moment here.
Kevy: It’s best known for its use in Gates of Hell from 1962, starring Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes, where a crack squad of allied special forces attempt to kidnap Goering. It also featured briefly in The Iron Will from 1953 and in Jugendabteilung, a very transgressive film from the mid-seventies.