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Gardens by the Bay: Singapore’s innovative spirit at work

Gardens by the Bay: Singapore’s innovative spirit at work

23 Oct 2017 | Christel Gomes

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.


From challenges to opportunities: nurturing success

Photo credit: Gardens by the Bay

The project gave new meaning to the phrase “starting from scratch”. The land that was used was bereft of roads, drains and electricity. It was also “all reclaimed land, so associated works had to be carried out prior to the development of the Gardens,” explains Chong.


With environmental sustainability as the prime focus, the innovators planned and designed infrastructure to effectively cycle energy and water use. “Energy to cool the conservatories is generated from the burning of horticultural waste; solar energy is harvested to light up the Supertrees; and rain is captured in the lakes, cleansed by aquatic plants and used for irrigation,” details Chong.


To achieve all of this, the team had to consider climate engineering, geotechnics, irrigation, and more. “Prototype glasshouses were used as a test-bed for the sustainability features,” Chong adds.


Greening was an area of concern too. “It takes time for a garden to grow and mature. But with just five years to develop the Gardens, we had to think of creative ways to speed up the process. Mature trees were used to landscape the Gardens,” reveals Chong.


“Some of these trees were salvaged and transplanted from other parts of Singapore affected by development. The Supertrees were another innovative way of buying time as they provided immediate scale and dimension to the Gardens.”

Photo credit: Gardens by the Bay

Innovation in full bloom


Gardens by the Bay also functions as a hub of horticultural research and development. “The Flower Dome’s ever-changing floral displays exemplify how green technology combined with human ingenuity make possible what is otherwise unimaginable in the botanical world – enabling cool-climate plants such as cherry blossoms and tulips to bloom in a tropical environment,” says Chong.


The team also undertakes R&D work on an ongoing basis. For instance, they experimented with different horticultural techniques to grow dahlias, a highlight of the Chinese New Year displays. A technique known as “disbudding” was used to limit the number of flowers that grow on the plant. This resulted in bigger and more luscious flowers.


Planting Singapore on the world map


Today, Gardens by the Bay has become an icon of innovation and sustainability, pushing the boundaries of botanical possibilities. It has also boosted Singapore as a destination for horticultural lovers, thanks to the over 80 local and international awards it has earned.


Gardens by the Bay is one of Singapore’s blooming examples of what innovation and passion in equal parts can make possible.