Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay opened temporarily to the public in November for the 20th World Orchid Conference, and it gave eager Singaporeans and tourists a sneak peek at what to expect when the gardens officially open in June 2012.
Designed and planned by landscape consultants Grant Associates, and in collaboration with Wilkinson Eyre for architectural design, this 54 hectare urban park by the sea is unlike anything else in Southeast Asia and features 3 key attractions that will keep visitors occupied and entertained. Alongside the sprawling heritage gardens which take up a good portion of the site, there are the building sized Super Tree clusters and 2 stunning Asymmetrical Glass domes, nicknamed “the sea serpent” , that house flora from cooler climates around the world. This last attraction has made punters and enthusiasts draw comparisons between this city centre park with the seminal Eden project in Cornwall, UK. Like that project, which simulates various climate conditions to house a wide array of plants from around the world, the 2 big domes at the gardens by the bay use energy efficient cooling and active sun-shading to achieve the same idea in the tropics.
Spot the environmental sensor!
Untapped was fortunate enough to get a brief run-down on how the domes work structurally and also the systems put in place to keep the interior cool.
Essentially, the whole structural system consists of giant steel ribs caging a self-supporting glass skin. What this means is that the glass skin can stand on its own but it can’t take lateral loads like the wind. That is where the ribs come in to brace the glass skin by structurally pinning it in several places. Every part of the design was considered to keep it looking light, elegant and floating. The architects and engineers achieved this incredible thinness to the ribs through extensive structural modelling on the computer and part of the need to push the boundaries for this reduction of mass of the ribs was to benefit the amount of natural daylight that needed to flood the interior of the domes.
These are the pins that unite the steel ribs and the glass skin
On the climate control front, there are 3 big systems working to control the condition of the air inside the domes. One system pumps cool air into the structure, another extracts the humid air and dries it through a large desiccant system. The third system is a series of motorised sun shades installed discreetly in the rib structure that extend and contract automatically based on the environmental conditions of the moment.
The demand to create several different climate zones for all the plants within the same dome means that a highly complex network work of air ducts had to be engineered to recreate the ideal conditions for plant survival, and in some areas, it even extended to under floor cooling! If any of you had a chance to visit the preview, you could have distinctly felt the change of temperature of the zones as you descend from the higher parts of the garden to the lower concourse.
As part of an environmentally conscious drive in the operations of the park, one interesting fact is that all the surface run-off in the park gets drained to a huge man-made lake where the water is naturally filtered by a series of reed beds before being recycled.
On the urban planning front, Gardens by the Bay is part of, and the final connection to, a comprehensive east to west link in Singapore for cyclists and runners. Together with the Marina Barrage, future urban-scale mass events like marathons will leave the East Coast park, cross the Barrage and skirt along the western bank of the barrage towards the Marina Bay Sands Art & Science Museum via a road that slips between the glass skin and rib supports of the “sea serpent” . Truly a stunning route, that together with the Singapore Night F1 Race, is a bit of computer game urbanism made real.
On site, work is still flying on the second dome which is even more “out there” . Think mountain jungle under a glass skin. We are really looking forward to that one!
Also due for completion is the aerial walkway that spirals up at the center of the main cluster of Super Trees, of which, the biggest tree houses a spectacular F&B outlet in its crown.
We’ll save further details of the park for the future as details become clearer. Stay tuned for updates!
Built in 1938, the Kam Leng Hotel has been quiet for the last 20 years as the last recorded hotel license expired sometime in the late 80s or the early 90s. It is one of the few purpose built hotels on the stretch, the other notable ones being the Whitehouse Hotel and the Mayo Inn.
On plan the whole development covers the area of about five shop house units, and although it does look like it was designed as a whole building, curiously, it is actually two buildings side by side, split into a three unit and two-unit structure. No one seems to know the significance of this.
It its original iteration, the hotel had 22 rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors and a restaurant on the 4th. No one can figure out the exact use of the ground floor. It may have just been shops along the 5-foot walk way and unlikely to have been a granStanding on the corner of a row of shop houses, nearer the Lavender street end of Jalan Besar, stands an abandoned hotel called the Kam Leng.d lobby. The only lift shaft serving all the floors is at the 5th and innermost unit, with a snug, yet beautiful terrazzo staircase spiralling around it.
Stories about the market position of the hotel back in the day suggest that the hotel was a place for local businessmen to entertain as a very local alternative to the much more posh Raffles Hotel at Beach Road. It was also the hotel of choice for traveling troupes coming down from Malaysia, who came to entertain at the long defunct “entertainment villages” nearby, like The New World and Gay World. These venues saw their heydays from the 1920s to the 1960s.
A quick tour of the existing structure does not suggest that the hotel was a luxury establishment. The toilets had a sharing arrangement at the rear of each floor and air conditioners may have never been installed in the rooms previously.
The existing rooms have a unique double door arrangement. You could close the one full sized door, or you could have left that door open and partially screened the view into the room with a pair of cowboy swing doors. These were fitted to allow for some privacy and ventilation.
Hard to place a date on when the interior finishes were revamped. Probably all done at different times. All the same, it feels bang on the money, stylewise, for the vintage-leaning flashpacker market:
The 4th floor restaurant has a unique history. It was helmed at various points by the “4 heavenly kings” of local cuisine, and it is claimed that chili crab, pepper crab, fried yam rings and even yu sheng (a raw fish salad served during Chinese New Year) was first served here.
This old stalwart is about to get a new lease of life again and she has been leased out to a new hotel operator for the next 20 years. The interiors are being designed by local design firm FARM. Happily, this area of Singapore has recently seen a resurgence of backpacker and boutique hotels, and this puts the Kam Leng back onto the map! Untapped will follow up on this hotel project as it unfolds.
Ken Teo, director in a boutique design firm in Singapore, gives his take on his top five interesting buildings in this tiny Republic where he treasures the historical, iconic and unique facades that define Singapore.
1. Golden Mile – Ghetto Blaster
Singapore was an amazing place in the 70s for architects to experiment with European urban planning solutions for higher density living. Designed by Design Partnership and completed in 1973, Golden Mile complex expresses the raked section and “Streets in the Sky” concept by the Smithsons. The structure is a small fragment of a longer linear block that was supposed to trace the coast line, but never got realised.
Heroic architecture with a focus on rehousing horizontal communities vertically; we are very unlikely to see a building of this type constructed again anywhere in the world. Nostalgia for a brutalist past means that there is now a growing demand amongst edgy urban, creative types to live there. A similar situation to the Brunswick Centre and the Barbican in London.
Today, Golden Mile is a unique site in Singapore for various reasons. Explore the upper levels to discover hidden spaces for residents to socialize. Although their complex is showing its age from the outside, many residents are renovating their units to have modern living in this older complex. If you visit the ground floors, you will see a constant flow of busses as Golden Mile is a primary drop off point for busses traveling between Singapore and Malaysia. Golden Mile has also become a Thai centre. All things Thai can be found from grocery stores and food stalls to discos and karaoke.
2. Pearl Bank Apartments – Another Cool Effort from a Local Boy
Another architectural landmark in Singapore, this and the Peoples’ Park complex just down the road, was another early study in high rise, high-density living. Finished in 1976 and rising 113 metres, it was the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore at that time. The key design move is the horseshoe plan of the tower that opens towards the afternoon sun, significantly reducing the facade area exposed to direct sunlight. It sits imposingly on top of Pearl’s Hill and looks very cool lit at night.
Pearl Bank Apartments has become a site of controversy and rumor. While some view the sight as a modern day eyesore, there are others that are fighting for the building to be granted conservation status by the government to pay homage to its history. More recently, it is looking likely that residents will opt to “en-bloc” the unit, which in Singapore means to sell the site to real estate development to demolish and redevelop the land.
3. Marina Bay Sands – Respect not Love
You don’t have to love it for the way it looks, but you can respect it for the shift of scale that it presents to the local built landscape. An analogical Mt Ararat, the complex was designed by Moshe Safdie as 3 monoliths complete with a stranded ark on top. With a scale ruler taken from the strip in Las Vegas, Singapore’s busiest hotel and casino cannot be denied in anyway because of sheer size. Nothing in Singapore so far feels as “Big” as Marina Bay Sands. This is Singapore in 2011. The grandeur is part Vegas and part Dubai.
4. The Colonnade – Stack of Boxes
This highly intricate, conceptually modular structure with complex floor plates that yield unique double volume spaces internally was designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1987. Of particular interest is the raised lobby area that creates an airy arrival and benefits the views of the lowest floor apartments.
Twenty years after it was completed, the Colonnade “high waisted” look is becoming more and more common by developers and Singapore’s Housing Development Board. It can be crossed referenced to the metabolist movement in Japan of the 1960s but Paul Rudolph had his own way of interpreting it.
5. St Mary of the Angels Church – Reassures You that God is a Tasteful Modernist and likes White
The work of Singapore architects WOHA is a secluded Catholic Church perched on a hill top in the middle of a public housing estate. Modernist and intimate in scale, this is a rather special find. I believe this is definitely worth a visit to west Singapore, where the overall feel is more verdant. The original church was built in the 1950, but it eventually suffered from overcrowding, parking problems and an urgent need for major structural repairs in both the church building and the friary. It was redeveloped and completed in 2003.