01. Gardens by the Bay
Fifty years ago, Singapore’s then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, planted a mempat sapling in a traffic circle as the first step towards his vision of creating a “Garden City”. Little could he have known the initiative would one day sprout 16-storey structures that rise out of the S$1bn (€613m) Gardens by the Bay like an imposing steel rainforest from the future.
Sitting on 101 hectares of reclaimed land between the city centre and the Singapore Strait, Gardens by the Bay is as much an engineering and architectural feat as a pleasant green space to enjoy an orchestral concert after work. When the city decided to devote the land to gardens in 2004, it wanted a park that would feel instantly connected to the city and become a natural gathering place for locals.
“The idea was that this garden would be to Singapore what Central Park is to New York,” says Kenneth Er, the park’s chief operating officer. The biggest challenge, he says, was to attract people who wouldn’t normally go to a botanical garden. “We felt it was important, as you come into this garden, that it must ‘wow’ you.” And so it does. There are more than a million plants in the garden and the park is also leading the way on the environmental sustainability front. The park’s biomes (ecologically distinct habitats), for example, are cooled using energy generated from a furnace burning horticultural waste, while the Supertrees harness solar energy, collect rainwater that feeds into the park’s irrigation system and vent hot air from the biomes through an underground exhaust system.
The Supertrees and the two giant flower biomes are part of the master plan conceived by the British architecture firm Wilkinson Eyre and the landscape architects Grant Associates, which won an international competition in 2006 to build Gardens by the Bay. The Supertrees provide a startling visual impact (they’re inspired by the magical jungles in the Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke), while the cooled conservatories contain an impressive 217,000 plants in two distinct climates — the dry Mediterranean “Flower Dome” and the misty, cooler tropical highlands in the “Cloud Forest”, which also has a 30-metre waterfall.
To encourage locals to visit, the park doesn’t charge admission for the outside gardens and there’s an annual pass for residents to visit the biomes. The park is open early in the morning (05.00) and closes late at night (02.00). Educational tours are offered for school groups and special attention has been paid to helping the elderly get around – even the 22-metre-high skyway connecting the Supertrees is wheelchair accessible.
Er says the gardens have attracted 4.5 million visitors since opening last July, of which about 60 per cent are locals. “It’s a space that energises the city,” he says. “Hopefully, it will become entrenched as part of Singapore.”
There’s a promenade on the edge of the park that’s popular with runners and cyclists. The park also held a 10km “Garden Run” last year, and is now on the Singapore Marathon route.
Food and drink
British chef Jason Atherton has opened Pollen, an offshoot of his Michelin-starred London restaurant Pollen Street Social, inside the “Flower Dome”. For Singaporean fare, Satay by the Bay is a hawker-style food court serving BBQ seafood, chicken rice and, naturally, satays of every stripe.
The gardens have two venues for open-air concerts. A large meadow can accommodate up to 25,000 people for major shows (Psy and Aerosmith performed in May) and the grove surrounding the main Supertree cluster hosts regular orchestral performances. There’s a Supertree light and sound show twice a night, as well.