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Newer structures shaping Singapore’s identity too

SINGAPORE — While there is little doubt that buildings from the Republic’s colonial past are representations of heritage and history, their newer peers also have a part to play in shaping the unique Singapore identity, experts told TODAY.

Singapore’s skyline around the Marina Bay area has been transformed into one that is attractive and distinctive, and one that integrates ‘work, live and play’. PHOTO: URA

Singapore’s skyline around the Marina Bay area has been transformed into one that is attractive and distinctive, and one that integrates ‘work, live and play’. PHOTO: URA

SINGAPORE — While there is little doubt that buildings from the Republic’s colonial past are representations of heritage and history, their newer peers also have a part to play in shaping the unique Singapore identity, experts told TODAY.

Developments such as Marina Bay Sands, which officially opened in 2010, and Gardens by the Bay, which opened two years later, have emerged as icons for both residents, who identify with them, and the millions of tourists who visit Singapore every year.

“There are a few modern buildings that connect with people on a deeper level, such as Marina Bay Sands, Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay. These buildings (have been created) to transform Singapore’s skyline around the Marina Bay area to become one that is attractive and distinctive, and one that integrates ‘work, live and play’,” said Dr Luke Peh, head of SIM University’s facilities and events management programme.

“The Marina Bay area has become the postcard representation of Singapore,” he added.

The city skyline that forms the backdrop for many national and international events, such as the National Day Parade and the Formula 1 Grand Prix night race, is the result of “careful sculpting” by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

“The land parcels are oriented to ensure that almost all new developments have water or garden views. The URA has drawn up design guidelines to ensure that tall buildings will not overwhelm the Bay and that the overall pedestrian experience around the waterfront is attractive and pleasant,” said Ms Fun Siew Leng, URA group director (urban planning and design).

“The locations of the individual high-rise towers within Marina Bay have also been carefully arranged to create ‘breathing space’ and provide vistas towards the waterfront and major open spaces. This safeguards views to and from individual buildings, enhances their attractiveness and creates a pleasant skyline for the district,” she said.

Besides their unique architecture, what gives buildings such as Marina Bay Sands their iconic status is the experience they offer that continues to draw residents and visitors alike, noted Associate Professor Johannes Widodo from the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore.

“The experience of being at the SkyPark, sitting there waiting for the laser show — the atmosphere all adds to the good memories about the place; so Marina Bay Sands has become a must-see for many people. It has achieved an iconic status, not only for Singaporeans, but for people from all over the world who have part of their lives in this city,” said Assoc Prof Widodo. “So buildings resonate with people not only because of how they look. It’s also the function and the experience that they offer … Those are like the glue of these places.”

Balancing aesthetics and function was one of the major guiding principles for architect Colin Wu during his involvement in the development of Gardens by the Bay, which is part of the URA’s aim for a “city in a garden” to differentiate Singapore’s business and financial district from those in other cities in the world. The development also seeks to create a more liveable and endearing environment for residents despite Singapore being one of the mostly densely-populated places in the world.

At the opening ceremony of Gardens by the Bay in June 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it offered a place to relax after work, a place to take the family to on weekends, a place to enjoy a concert or a nice meal, as well as activities that cater to a wide spectrum of ages and interests.

Only two years after the official opening, the gardens, which sit on a 100ha site along the waterfront of the prime Marina Bay downtown area, have welcomed more than 10 million visitors. Mr Wu told TODAY that the success of Gardens by the Bay lies in the right “programming”.

“I think as much as we can build an iconic structure, what’s important is the ‘programming’, because the experience, the events that are hosted here are things that engage people and keep people coming,” said the senior vice-president (architecture) at CPG Consultants. “When working on the gardens, that was the guiding principle that the team adhered to. It is important that everyone involved in a development starts with a mind to make a good product. And it is a bonus if, at the end of the day, that building is put up for conservation. I think that is the best compliment that any development can get.”

But whether or not modern developments such as Gardens by the Bay are worthy of conservation is for the future generations to decide, Mr Wu added, a sentiment that Assoc Prof Widodo shared.

“History is moving forward. We always think that heritage buildings are from the colonial period, the nation-building period. Actually, they are not. The structures that we build today — ION Orchard, the ‘durian’ Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands — may be very new and recent to us, but for the future generations, they will become historical buildings,” he said.

As such, the Singapore identity is one that is continually evolving, noted Dr Kang Soon-Hock from SIM University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences. He added: “Apart from the usual identifiers such as local food, national dress and symbols such as the Merlion, buildings — in particular, iconic buildings — also contribute to our unique Singaporean identity. For those of us who have gone away for a period of time, the images that come to our mind when we think of home do not only include images of food, but also architectural images.”

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