Dundee Heritage Trust has reopened the doors unveiling a dramatic upgrade to the gallery and previously inaccessible dome area of the iconic Riverside exhibition after receiving funding from the Tay Cities Region Deal.
The space now includes a highly visual and virtual experience, the Discovery Dome, transporting visitors through historic Dundee, with Alan Cumming’s recognisable voice narrating the journey.
Renovations began in summer 2021, transforming the layout of the gallery space within the visitor centre. A well-known silhouette on the Dundee cityscape, the vaulted dome area, inaccessible until now, has had a suspended floor, elevator, staircase and impactful art installation, Gaia, installed in the upper cupola of the Discovery Point building. The investment creates a new public gallery with a 360° panoramic view over the city and the River Tay.
Embarking on an inclusive, educational experience, voiced by Scottish actor Alan Cumming, visitors are transported back to 1901, exploring Dundee’s rich industrial history and recognisable landmarks through visual CGI technology. Over two million visitors have visited the Dundee landmark, the Royal Research Ship Discovery and the gallery’s Recognised Collection of National Significance of over 150 objects since its launch in 1993. The new Discovery Dome is expected to attract a significant increase in footfall, contributing to the city’s latest tourism focus.
Adding to the visual experience, one of renowned British artist Luke Jerram’s famous Gaia designs, which typically tours around the UK, will be permanently housed in the dome, set to wow visitors for decades to come.
The National Fund for Acquisitions and Art Fund supported the Trust with the acquisition of Gaia, a 3D Globelike artwork measuring 3.75 metres in diameter and created from 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface*. The artwork provides the opportunity to see the glowing planet floating in three dimensions, allowing guests to clearly visualise Antarctica and the distance of the expeditions Discovery made.
Deirdre Robertson, CEO of Dundee Heritage Trust, said: “We’ve been thoroughly looking forward to reopening the doors to the new and improved experience welcoming returning locals and visitors alike. The Discovery Dome is an incredible visual experience, not to be missed. The city is bursting with history but to be able to immerse yourself in old Dundee with such accurate visuals and interesting details is very special. This improvement has made the RRS Discovery and Gallery a must-visit attraction in Dundee and Scotland.
Dundee Heritage Trust received investment via the Tay Cities Region Deal to fund the renovations to the Discovery Dome and gallery. The Tay Cities Region Deal is a partnership between local, Scottish and UK governments and the private, academic and voluntary sectors which seeks to create a smarter and fairer Angus, Dundee, Fife and Perth & Kinross under the headings Inclusive Tay; Innovative Tay; International Tay; Connected Tay, and An Empowered Tay
Councillor Beth Whiteside, Chair of the Tay Cities Region Deal joint committee, said: “It’s wonderful to see how Tay Cities Region Deal funding is helping to create new opportunities and further enhance the region’s culture and tourism economy. The latest visual and virtual transformation at Discovery Point creates a unique offering for visitors to enjoy as they explore Dundee’s rich industrial history and recognisable landmarks when they visit the city.”
Ali Gellatly, Operations Manager at Dundee Heritage Trust, said:“The Discovery Dome sessions are also a unique opportunity to take in panoramic views across the city, never seen before. Dome sessions last 30 minutes, and only 12 guests are permitted per session, adding to the experience, as it allows the opportunity to take in the views from all angles with an exclusive setting.”
The launch of the new and improved attraction coincides with the 30th anniversary of the dry docking of the vessel when the ship was moved from the Tay into the purpose-built dry dock, where it remains on display today.
Built in Dundee in 1900, the RRS Discovery was the first ship specifically designed for scientific research in Antarctic regions and was first launched from Dundee a year later in the first of three major scientific expeditions.
Caroline Warburton, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said: “It’s fantastic to see further investment being made to support Dundee’s vital tourism industry. RRS Discovery is one of the city’s most popular attractions, bringing to life an important part of our history. This new upgrade will enhance Dundee’s outstanding offering and adds a truly unique element to the entire experience. I am sure it will be enjoyed by visitors from across the region and beyond.”
The 26 Tay Cities Region Deal projects submitted require an investment of £700 million, of which £300 million over ten years is being put in by the UK Government and Scottish Government, subject to final approval of robust business cases. If every project and programme set out in the submission is funded and delivered, up to 6,000 job opportunities could be created across the tourism, food and drink, creative industries, eco innovation, digital, decommissioning, engineering, biomedical and health and care sectors.
The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Ivan McKee, said: “The RRS Discovery occupies a special place in the history of polar exploration more than a century ago and I welcome the upgrading of the visitor centre as part of the Scottish Government-funded Tay Cities Region Deal. This will help encourage the sustainable growth of tourism in tandem with our transformation of the economy.”
Funding also came from ScottishPower Foundation, which supports projects to make a significant and lasting contribution to society and enhance the quality of life in local communities across the UK. This year’s funding investment sees the Foundation hit the milestone of £10 million in grants awarded since the Foundation was established in 2013.
Melanie Hill, Executive Officer and Trustee of the ScottishPower Foundation said: “We are delighted to have been able to support the extensive reimagining of Discovery Point with the addition of the new Dundee Dome Experience.
“This new exhibit featuring the beautiful Gaia artwork will influence visitors to reflect on the industrial history of the city and what the future could look like as we combat the climate crisis. It’s this aspect of the project that really appealed to the Foundation and we are proud to be supporting the creation of this thought-provoking resource that will be enjoyed by many for years to come.”
Additional funding was received from Hugh Fraser Foundation, West Hall Charitable Fund; Leng Charitable Trust; Waracle Ltd; Ecclesiastical Insurance and many generous individual supporters.