21 May 2021 — Announcement

What if…?/Scotland opens at V&A Dundee on 22 May

What If...?/Scotland, photo by Alan Richardson, Pix-Ar
What If…?/Scotland, photo by Alan Richardson, Pix-Ar

People from across Scotland will showcase their hopes, dreams and ideas for their local areas in a post-pandemic world at Scotland’s design museum.

Since the beginning of 2020, 30 people of all ages, from Annan, Edinburgh, Elgin, Dundee, Lerwick and Paisley- have worked with designers, architects and artists to reflect on the place they call home for an exhibition opening this week at V&A Dundee.

Together, they have looked at what the civic role of design and architecture means today and added their hopes, dreams and wishes for their own home towns, villages and cities, as well as considering the importance of place and its meaning to the people of Scotland today. Since lockdown began, the individuals have also further considered the importance of home, and being in your local area, and what this will mean now and what it could mean in the future.

The exhibition What if…?/Scotland – opens at V&A Dundee on 22 May, and was originally designed to be staged in Venice as part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. In 2021 the exhibition will open ‘at home’ in Scotland for the first time in, as well as elements being shown online.

Commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership, What if…/? Scotland has been designed and curated by award winning Edinburgh based architecture and design practice 7N Architects (7N) in partnership with Architecture & Design Scotland, What if…?/Scotland responds to the Biennale’s theme How will we live together?

This announcement follows news that V&A Dundee will develop into Scotland’s centre for design over the next three years, which will include new partnerships that connect communities and empower people through design.

Lead curator and Principal Architect 7N Architects, Ewan Anderson said “The Biennale Architettura 2021’s theme ‘How will we live together?’ is more salient than ever, in Scotland and across the world, after a year of living apart during lockdown. With What if…?/Scotland, we really wanted to encourage collaborative thinking between designers and communities to demonstrate how community-led, grassroots engagement about people’s wishes for the future of their towns, cities and villages can stimulate ambitious ideas to make them better places. What should the future of your place look like? What if you could change it?”

At the start of 2020 and prior to the first nationwide lockdown, 7N paired over people from Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, Paisley in Renfrewshire, Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, Elgin in Morayshire, and Lerwick in Shetland – with designers, architects, and artists – to share their hopes, dreams or wishes for the future of the place where they live. In 2021, a group in Whitfield, Dundee, also met and will continue to gather during the exhibition run to further consider what home means to them, in Dundee.

The community members, architects, artists and designers walked together and talked about challenges and expectations for the areas. Ideas proposed included more green spaces, a new bridge, facilities for the arts, accessible design for wheelchair users, regeneration of former industrial buildings, and better places to meet. The discussions pointed towards ways in which communities can make meaningful and positive change in their own neighbourhoods. More details on each locations conversations can be found in this Google Drive folder.

The architects and designers then used these wishes to begin exploring ideas in response to the community challenges being faced presented in the exhibitions.

Visitors to the exhibition at V&A Dundee can add their own wish for the place they call home to a growing “Cloud of Dreams” and be part of a major public art work at the centre of the exhibition.

What If...?/Scotland 'Cloud of Dreams', photo by Alan Richardson, Pix-Ar

What If…?/Scotland ‘Cloud of Dreams’, photo by Alan Richardson, Pix-Ar

The collaborative workshops have also been captured in a series of short films forming the narrative focus of the exhibition, made by filmmaker Basharat Khan of Bash Art Creative. The stories of each place, as told by its citizens and set within the rich and varied landscapes of rural and urban Scotland, are presented in an immersive environment designed for reflection and inspiration. These will be available online for international audiences to engage with as well as on show at V&A Dundee.

Jim MacDonald, Chief Executive of Architecture and Design Scotland said: “Everyone is affected by decisions that affect the design of their places and we know that collaboration empowers communities and supports wellbeing. The themes explored in What if…?/Scotland demonstrate how the creativity that comes from communities working with architects and designers can support positive change. This is particularly important now as we look to rebuild after the lockdowns and I hope this exhibition can inspire people to believe in a better future and the role of design in making it

On behalf of the Scotland + Venice partnership, Chair, Amanda Catto commented: “It’s a great privilege to be launching this exhibition with V&A Dundee, a place where we can welcome and engage people in a conversation about their hopes and aspirations for the future and how we can all live well, and live better, together. The exhibition has been in development since 2019, reflects the participation of communities across Scotland and will be grown further with input from members of the public who visit the exhibition in real life or on line.

“It’s remarkable to think what has happened to our lives in this relatively short space of time and we hope the exhibition gives people a space to reflect on that for themselves. To mark the opening of the exhibition we are launching the new Scotland + Venice website which will enable us to reach audiences from across the UK and internationally and we’re looking forward to welcoming them into this vital and timely conversation.”

Leonie Bell, Director of V&A Dundee, said: “Good design enriches our lives, it creates homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities where people, and places, thrive. As we all look forward with hope and optimism to our cultural, economic and social recovery from the COVID pandemic, design has a fundamental role to play.

“We have an opportunity to design a more inclusive, fairer and greener society. To do so we need to bring together the expertise and creativity of architects and designers with the knowledge and ideas of citizens and residents.

“This is why What if…?/Scotland is such a timely exhibition, and such an important exhibition to host at V&A Dundee. It asks questions of all of us, encouraging us to think about design differently, and over the coming months we will be working with people in Dundee to explore their hopes for the future of their city.”

All visitors now need to book free tickets to enter V&A Dundee, as part of the essential steps to keep visitors safe and to ensure physical distance. Those free tickets can be booked at www.vam.ac.uk/dundee


1. Scotland + Venice provides architects and artists based in Scotland with a valuable platform to showcase their work on the international stage at the Venice Biennale and is a partnership between Creative Scotland, British Council Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, Architecture and Design Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Keep up to date:

Twitter: @scotlandvenice
Instagram: @scotlandvenice  
Facebook: @scotlandandvenice

2. 7N Architects is an Edinburgh based design practice specialising in generating innovative ideas that make better places through transformational change. The practice is focused on unlocking the full potential of places, spaces and buildings by bringing together architecture, urban design, landscape and master-planning in an integrated approach to placemaking.

The practice’s approach is embodied in their award winning projects, ranging from city strategies to buildings and public spaces, including the Glasgow City Centre Strategy and Avenues concept, the University of Glasgow Campus, the Fountainbridge and Western Harbour masterplans in Edinburgh, the Knab project in Lerwick, the Fraser Avenue regeneration in Inverkeithing, the Michelin Innovation Parc in Dundee, and the Town Centre Toolkit and community engagement Charrettes throughout Scotland for the Scottish Government.

The origin of the What If? initiative is a self-initiated study by 7N on the practice’s home city of Edinburgh. This was a collection of ideas and propositions aimed at questioning, stimulating and inspiring positive change within the city to stimulate discussion, debate and expansive thinking on how it can be a better place for all of its citizens.

Media Contact

For press information contact Nicola Jeffs 07794 694 754 [email protected]