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Singapores Garden by the bay

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

For an island that takes barely a half hour to drive across, Singapore has never shied away from ambitious building projects. And now, just a few hundred meters away from the triple towers of the Marina Bay Sands casino resort, another new landmark is shaping up to become the city-state’s next buzzed-about attraction.

 

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

 

Sprawling over an area the size of more than 170 football fields, the 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay is the latest salvo in the city’s utopian vision (and rebranding) of itself as a tropical garden city where lush greenery enfolds 21st-century skyscrapers. The S$1 billion (about US$800 million) project is the result of a landscape-led global competition that was eventually won by the British firm Grant Associates who, in turn, recruited London-based architects Wilkinson Eyre to design the built environment.

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

Already six years in the making, the Gardens, when completed in 2015, will be a focal point for both Singapore’s green credentials and the new central business district currently taking shape on the eastern edge of Marina Bay.

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

“We wanted a new centerpiece,” says the Gardens’ chief operating officer, Kenneth Er, “something that goes beyond Cornwall’s Eden Project. This was an opportunity to showcase color beyond the usual impression of the green tropics.”

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

The crown jewel of the three massive waterfront gardens—a 54-hectare twin conservatory complex dubbed Bay South Garden—will be the first to open, with an official debut slated for June 29. Sheathed in steel and glass, the asymmetrical ribbed bio-domes are defiantly futuristic in their silhouette, their raison d’être clearly telegraphed by glimpses of the massed greenery within—around 226,000 plants from every continent except Antarctica.

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

The Flower Dome, the larger of the two conservatories, had a soft opening last No-vember, just in time for the World Orchid Festival. Kept at a constant 23 to 25 degrees Celsius, it features a cool, dry environment that takes its climatic and botanical cues from the Mediterranean, California, South Africa, and southern Australia. Nestled amid the 1.2-hectare landscape are baobabs and Australian grass trees, olive and fig trees, lavender and tulip fields, Chilean wine palms, and assorted plants that rotate according to the seasons.

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

Visitors seeking respite amid the luxuriance will soon be able to stop at Pollen, a mod-Mediterranean restaurant from Michelin-starred British chef Jason Atherton, complete with its own herb-and-vegetable garden.

Adjoining the Flower Dome is the Cloud Forest, a cool, moist conservatory of misty forests and a 30-meter waterfall alongside high-altitude tropical plants clinging to the sides of a 35-meter-high faux mountain. Among the 130,000 plants sprouting in Eden-esque abundance are cycads, Lady Slipper vines, Australian conifers, and carnivorous plants like butterworts and Venus flytraps.

Not surprisingly, energy conservation and sustainability have been crucial factors in the construction of Bay South Garden. Lead architect Paul Baker acknowledges that the design process was a battle. “The biggest challenge has been to create an intelligent building that isn’t energy hungry. A lot of the time, Singapore is actually quite overcast, so you’ve got to achieve a certain balance of heat and light while being energy efficient.”

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

To that end, Baker worked closely with Grant Associates to create a cloak of retract-able shading fins that open and close depending on the weather. “These conservatories are as energy efficient as an office building,” says Er. “The glass shells are coated with a special film that lets in 66 percent of the light but just 33 percent of heat.”

Excess energy is recycled and expelled through a grove of towering “super-trees” that are in fact giant concrete cores sheathed in photovoltaic cells (which power the night lights), water collectors, and steel lattices. Standing anywhere from 25 to 50 meters tall, these functional structures are cleverly disguised by tens of thousands of plants representing nearly 200 species, including bromeliads, creepers, ferns, and orchids. The super-trees, some of which are linked by aerial boardwalks, support not just a living skin of foliage but also mimic the ecological functions of trees by recycling air and heat from the conservatories.

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

When fully complete, Gardens by the Bay will include 10 satellite gardens—among them, a Malay kampong garden and a “colonial” garden festooned with clove, nutmeg, cocoa, and rubber trees—themed to reflect both the history and culture of Singapore’s main ethnic groups and the planet’s biodiversity. Also in the mix are two water features, Dragonfly Lake and Kingfisher Lake, that do double duty as a backdrop for wedding photos and a natural filtration system for runoff from the gardens.

Behind the obvious tourist pull, there is, of course, a more serious educational and research element to Bay South Garden, including programs in which environmental specialists will study flowering cycles and growing food in controlled habitats. As Baker puts it, “Making the bio-domes incredibly beautiful was a serious objective. But equally, there is quite a lot of science here.”

Singapores Gardens by the Bay

On a broader level (in Singapore, it’s always about the bigger picture), Gardens by the Bay is the most ambitious salvo in the on-going quest to brand Singapore as a garden city. As Kenneth Er puts it, it’s an attempt to create a genuinely green city, framed against water and Singapore’s soaring skyline. “It’s about a bit of magic.

For this little island, at least, that magical future is also looking so much greener. Bay South Garden opens to the public on June 29 2012 Tickets from US$22

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