The radiant face of Singapore

The radiant face of Singapore

From the Republic’s early days, the buildings that define its skyline reflect a nation that is increasingly vibrant, writes JOEL CHUA


IF a country had a face, it would be the skyline of its city. Like a portrait on a sky-blue canvas, it is the profile of a nation – as visually unique as the individuals who inhabit it. And, like a face, it reflects the character and spirit of its people too.


The economic success story of Singapore is not just recorded in the history books, but literally etched in stone. Well, concrete anyway. Soaring office towers decked out in glass and steel gleam proudly, shoulder-to-shoulder, scraping the sky above the Central Business District (CBD). But despite the rush to build on increasingly limited and expensive land, Singapore hasn’t become as suffocating a concrete jungle as many other developed cities. For all the human activity that is part and parcel of a bustling cosmopolitan city, Singapore’s business district is surprisingly well-ordered and efficient.


The brain behind the city’s pleasant face is the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Since the mid-1970s it has been tasked with striking a balance between designing an aesthetically distinctive yet land-efficient cityscape. Beyond figuring out how to make the most of limited land, it also sees ‘the need for the CBD to be attractive and distinctive’. Indeed, the number of postcards that promote Singapore’s photogenic skyline to the world bear testament to the efficacy of URA’s work over the years.


What is also notable is how young – compared with other developed cities – Singapore’s cityscape is.


A significant early development that contributed to the definition of its skyline came about a couple of decades ago in 1986 with the completion of OUB Centre at Raffles Place. The tower, which has 63 floors and is 280 metres high, was the tallest building outside the United States at the time of its opening.


Today, 22 years later, it still stands as an icon, sharing the title of Singapore’s tallest building with two other structures – UOB Plaza One and Republic Plaza, the former having been completed in 1992 and the latter three years later. Together they comprise a triumvirate of titans that stand as towering witnesses to the economic growth of the nation.


But bigger plans are afoot for an island with ambitions bigger than its land mass. Reclamation has been actively pursued to meet the infrastructural demands of a burgeoning economy for decades. Between 1960 and 1990, 51.5 sq km of land was reclaimed, accounting for almost 10 per cent of Singapore’s total land area at the time. By 2030, it is estimated that another 100 sq km will have been added.


The swathe of land that houses the buildings in the Marina Bay area is, in fact, reclaimed. Comprising 3.6 sq km of prime real estate, it is the focal point of existing and future developments that will cement Singapore’s status as a financial and business hub. Set picturesquely by the waterfront, the area is set to evolve into what URA terms a ‘Garden City by the Bay’.


It is envisioned as a round-the-clock microcosm of cosmopolitan living, with a vibrant lifestyle and leisure component that will complement its business environment.


One way URA hopes to infuse more vibrancy in the area is to designate certain zones ‘white sites’, which means developers can mix commercial, retail and residential components within a single project.


But while many of these new buildings will have a premium view of the bay area and encompass a mix of lifestyle and business facilities, they will not soar as high as the other buildings in the vicinity. This is another deliberate feature – planners do not want to obstruct the view of earlier developments.


Graduating arrangement


In fact, a glance at a picture of Singapore’s existing skyline reveals that very trend. The result is a dynamic yet uncluttered and h+armoniously graduating arrangement of heights that do not have to vie for the best view.


One significant development now being built that will acquire some height and prominence in the cityscape is The Sail @ Marina Bay, a luxury condominium which, at 70 stories tall, will be among the 10 tallest residential buildings in the world when it is completed next year. Comprising two distinctively sail-shape towers that are bound to become iconic fixtures of the future skyline, it will provide 1,100 apartments with a splendid view of the bay area.


Another upcoming marquee project is the Marina Bay Financial Centre, a $2 billion complex of residential and commercial buildings that will peak at 55 stories. When it is eventually up, it is expected to add a considerable 150,000 sq ft of Grade A office space, effectively doubling what is currently available in Singapore. The first phase is expected to be ready by 2010.


In fact, when the entire Marina Bay area is fully developed and integrated with the existing financial district, it will be twice the size of London’s famous Canary Wharf financial district and will provide a combined total of 2.82 million sq m of office space, equalling what is available in Hong Kong’s main business centre.


The most prominent – and anticipated – of these new developments will, no doubt, be the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort that is set to open for business next year. It will be a ground-breaking project in many ways.


A drive across Benjamin Sheares Bridge, which overlooks the expansive site, reveals an orchestra of cranes and a flurry of construction work – an impressive sign of the scale of things to come.


Its one-of-a-kind Sky Park – a two-acre stretch of landscaped gardens that will be perched atop and bridge its three 50-storey hotel towers – will offer breathtaking views of the entire city. When completed, it will offer six million sq ft of retail and entertainment space, 3,000 hotel rooms and a plethora of lifestyle and leisure activities.


While it may not be the tallest upcoming structure, it will undoubtedly be deemed the crown jewel on the eventual skyline. Certainly, at an estimated cost of more than $5 billion, it is likely to be one of the most expensive projects of its kind in the world.


With Singapore’s expanding skyline gradually taking form, the fact that each new storey of every eventual building represents a business opportunity is not lost on the different businesses involved in the building industry.


A significant portion of the investment pouring into the city will go to them, as developers continue dreaming up more impressive edifices to meet those increasing demands.


In fact, the total amount generated by the construction and building industry here is expected to hit a whopping $55 billion by 2011.


Last year, the industry grew by almost 10 per cent and awarded $19 billion of contracts.


International building centre


While its position as a financial and leisure hub continues to solidify, Singapore is also becoming a centre for the international building and construction industry.


With such an array of opportunities available and its reputation for business efficiency, almost everyone in the industry’s supply chain is finding some reason to do business here. They are either directly involved in the local industry or use it as a regional hub to reach out to larger markets in the region.


A good example is the upcoming BEX Asia 2008 exhibition, when building material and equipment suppliers from around the world showcase their latest products and technologies in Singapore. The event, from May 21-23 at Suntec Singapore, is expected to attract prominent industry players, both local and international.


And so, as developers build bigger and taller, they will continue to redefine Singapore’s skyline in the process. From the smattering of grey monoliths that sprouted up in the early days of the economic boom to the myriad glistening peaks and pinnacles that scrape our skies today – and those that will join them in the future – the skyline represents the face of a nation which, as it matures, begins to look increasingly radiant.


Source: Business Times

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