Behind the Scenes at V&A Dundee

29 Oct 2018

“Take two decks of cards and place them on a table a few inches apart. Then twist them so they join together.” This is how one engineer describes the new V&A Museum in Dundee – surely one of the most remarkably shaped buildings to have been constructed from concrete. None of its 21 elevations are vertical. Many of them are curved in two dimensions. Concrete walls up to 18m high incline outwards at a variety of unlikely angles and onto these are attached no fewer than 2,429 precast-concrete elements weighing up to three tonnes each.

Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, this extraordinary, £80 million, 8,000m2 building looks (from some angles) like a ship about to sail off into the Firth of Tay, on whose banks it stands. But such is the nature of the building that every perspective suggests something different: sails, a cowry shell or the stratified rock formations that were Kuma’s original inspiration.

To the construction-minded visitor, however, one pressing question immediately presents itself: how does it stand up? “The overall structure works as one,” explains project architect Maurizio Mucciola at PiM studio. “The external walls are tied back via the slabs and the roof to the two central cores – so the building was not stable until the roof structure was complete. It meant much of the supporting exterior formwork and falsework had to stay in place for more than a year until the roof was finished.”

The design presented such unique technical and construction challenges that in its early stages a variety of structural solutions, including using steel for the upper storeys, or building it entirely from precast blocks, were considered. However, says Mucciola, “In the end, in-situ concrete gave us the most flexible solution, combining technical ability with the freedom to create the shapes we wanted.”

Read for full story in our latest Concrete Quarterly - Autumn issue.