Good architecture and urban design can make a city more appealing and memorable, and can help to attract businesses, talents, tourists, create jobs and enhance the civic pride of residents.
– The Singapore Urban Redevelopment Agency
I’m proof that the statement above is true. Last week I flew hundreds of miles out of my way just to see some of that architecture, and I found a lot of it in the Singapore’s newest downtown district, Marina Bay.
1. Marina Bay Sands
Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands anchors the district. This Las Vegas style resort is a casino, a luxury shopping mall, and 2,500 hotel rooms in three 55 storey towers, topped with one of the world’s most famous infinity swimming pools. Safdie says his inspiration was a deck of cards. I see more Stonehenge, but whatever, that’s architecture. According to Wikipedia, the USD$5.7billion complex is the most expensive building in the world, so Singapore is probably glad that I showed up so they can start recouping their investment.
As a non-guest you can access the mall at the base of the towers, the surrounding waterfront promenade and the casino. A S$23 entrance fee gets you into parts of the rooftop SkyPark (sadly, not the pool). Rooftop restaurants are open to non-guests as well, but book ahead and dress sharp. If there’s a breeze when you visit, be sure to check out Ned Kahn’s Wind Arbor on the west façade of the hotel atrium. The surface is made up of more than 260,000 free-swinging aluminum panels that move in wind and look like rippling water.
2. The ArtScience Museum
Next to the hotel/mall structure is Singapore’s ArtScience Museum, another Safdie masterpiece. I didn’t have time to go in to see the Liebowitz exhibit that was on when I visited, but I bet it’s worth the entrance fee just to see the interior of such an interesting shape. Next to the museum, the Louis Vuitton store floats out in the bay like a glass iceberg that won’t melt, no matter how much we consume.
3. The Helix Bridge
The striking Helix Bridge connects Marina Bay Sands to the edge of downtown on the north shore. This pedestrian-only connection has four lookouts hanging off the side of the bridge that provide great views back to the Sands and the Singapore skyline. If you want to get up in the air again, you can take a ride on Singapore’s version of the London Eye.
4. Gardens By The Bay
Don’t leave the area without visiting Gardens By The Bay. The 101 hectare park has several outside attractions and two glass garden domes. The taller of the two domes mimics a cloud forest ecosystem, with tropical plants and a 35m waterfall. The programming is clever: you marvel at walls of cascading orchids and carnivorous jungle flowers you’ve never seen before, and then end up in a small theatre, in front of a compelling film about how all of this stuff (and probably humans) will be gone by in 2100 if the temperature rises 5 degrees, as currently predicted.
The second glass dome is two levels, divided into several zones, each showcasing typical plants from a range of ecosystems around the world. Overall it’s less impressive than the Cloud Forest, but the desert plants – cacti, pear-shaped trees that store water – are worth a look. Show up on a weekday, late afternoon, and stay for a cocktail at Pollen, a fine dining restaurant inside the dome.
5. The Supertree Grove
The exterior highlight at Gardens By The Bay is the Supertree Grove. These giant tree-like structures mimic biological functions of trees, with solar panels that produce some of the power for the glass domes. They look very futuristic, and a little bit like the blood vines the aliens in War of the Worlds make with human blood (!), but hey, don’t dwell on that. Your Gardens entrance fee gets you onto the OCBC Skyway, an elevated circular walkway between the two tallest supertrees, from which you can see the whole park.
Hopefully you still have energy at this point to walk, or take the shuttle to the far end of the park to the Marina Barrage, a dam and fresh water reservoir. Walk up the side of the building (I’m not kidding), onto the green roof for 200+ degree views of the city skyline.
A Few Tips
Visit the gardens at the beginning or end of the day, and bring an umbrella. Singapore is hot and humid 365 days a year, and sudden tropical rainstorms are common. I made the mistake of visiting at mid-day so the whole experience looked like Alice and Wonderland but felt like Bikram yoga.
If you want to take photos, bring a camera that lets you control light levels and exposure. It’s often overcast and the flat light makes it hard to shoot buildings. My iPhone wasn’t up to it, hence all the photos from other people in this post.
Get there on the MRT – Marina Bay Station is below the Marina Bay Sands complex and has an underground pedestrian connection to Gardens By The Bay.