Looking up from the foot of one of Singapore’s “supertrees” at Gardens by the Bay is an experience like no other. Futuristic and visually spectacular, the trees range from nine to 16 stories high. A symbol of sustainability and urban evolution, these nature-inspired, man-made structures are home to over 158,000 plants across 700 species and varieties of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers. In the day, the canopy gives much needed respite from the tropical sun, while at night, they come alive with sound and light.
Such creative innovation is the essence of Gardens by the Bay, a gargantuan effort by Singapore to reimagine the harmonious co-existence of nature and urbanism in a small city-space.
Peggy Chong, deputy CEO, Gardens by the Bay, says: “Gardens by the Bay brings to life the vision of Singapore as a ‘City in a Garden’. Conceptualised as a national garden for all Singaporeans to enjoy, it raises the quality of the living environment and contributes to the social cohesion of the nation.”
The Gardens spans 101 hectares of reclaimed land in the central business district of Marina Bay and is home to over 1.5 million plants across 19,000 species and varieties from all over the world. The cooled conservatories reverse the concept of greenhouses, cooling instead of heating, while the Supertrees give new meaning to vertical greening. In the last five years, the gardens have welcomed more than 35 million visitors.
“Few countries have dedicated such a large expanse of prime waterfront land in the city for public use, and this speaks of Singapore’s commitment toward ensuring that greenery remains accessible to all even in the midst of urbanisation,” points out Chong.
The germination of an idea
No project of this scale can be successfully achieved without governmental support and cooperation among various ministries. When the idea was first presented to the Cabinet in 2004, the Ministry of National Development and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, along with other government agencies such as the Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore Land Authority, Land Transport Authority and the national water agency PUB, all threw their weight behind the project.
Chong explains that there were three policy drivers at play. First, there was the need to continually reinvent Singapore as a global city of distinction in order to attract investments and talent amid competition from emerging markets. Second, to relieve the pressure of millions of visitors at Singapore Botanic Gardens so that its core function as a botanical institution could be restored. And third, to galvanise Singaporeans into taking ownership of their ‘City in a Garden’.
Even with strong governmental support, building an innovative garden of that scale was a colossal task. “The Gardens was unprecedented and ahead of its time, going beyond horticulture and landscape architecture to encompass a multitude of disciplines, ranging from architecture to structural and environmental engineering,” says Chong.
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