Earlier this year, Violet and I visited Singapore.  For me, it was a first-time visit, for Violet it was a return home to the place she grew up.  I had heard many things about Singapore from Violet and her family and had a professional curiosity about the densely populated urban city that is city and state all wrapped up in one.  Would there be takaways from our trip about urban development to inform our work in Southern California?

Traveling from Los Angeles took about 18 hours and my first impression of the airport on our arrival did not disappoint.  As an architect, I know that the best designed spaces give visitors a feeling beyond the cerebral of good aesthetics, but also an emotional response such as feelings of comfort, excitement, serenity, awe.  The airport design is cutting edge and uses state of the art construction techniques.  The apex is “The Jewel,” which is a water feature that funnels a large volume of water down through the roof; dropping 6-8 stories high.  Within this closed atrium at the airport, the space is full of vegetation, and with the combination of the showering water through The Jewel, you are immersed in a rainforest-like environment.  You are struck by the feeling that you are somewhere special where careful planning has gone beyond the creation of a utilitarian space, to a greater goal to inspire and revive.

The desire to enhance quality of life in such a densely populated area was apparent as we toured around.   Greenspaces are intentionally carved out with parks and greenways interwoven around high-rise apartment and condo dwellings.  There is a purposeful embracing of the natural.  Singapore is tropical, hot, and humid.  The use of trees, formal planting beds, and flower gardens is everywhere you go.  Potted plants and trees line all the streets.  Not only is this beautiful, but also serves the purpose of helping to lower the temperature in the urban core.  These natural elements also bring a sense of calm.  

As the financial capital of Asia, Singapore has many class-A office buildings, 5-star hotels, luxury residential, world-class restaurants, and high-end retail stores.   We had the pleasure of visiting the Marina Bay Sands, one such example. Comprised of three towers that are joined at the top by a curving structure that spans across all three buildings. The building has a distinct organic appeal with the curves and is reminiscent of ancient stone and rock formations. We stopped into the bar and restaurant at the top. Outside, there is an immense infinity edge pool. From the interior spaces, the water’s edge becomes the horizon. The view is amazing.

Marina Bay Sands photo from the bay

Located in the Downtown Core, in the Marina South district at the southern tip of the Island, Marina Bay Sands is located amidst some of Singapore’s most noteworthy attractions and when day transitions into night, the mood becomes enchanted and imaginative.  I attribute this to the extensive use of landscape lighting.  Walking around during the cooler evenings, lighting highlights places the Garden by the Bay at the foot of Marina Bay Sands.  The sculptural plantings are covered with LED lighting that highlight the shapes in a way you just don’t see during the daytime.    The Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel is another jewel of the nighttime cityscape. 

Our trip to Singapore has many highlights.  We ate lots of amazing meals with family and friends.  We did a lot of walking, and best of all, my take away from this trip is the continued appreciation of the value of taking pride in creating beautiful things.   With more focus on incorporating nature, lighting, and smart urban planning and by making our designs human-centered, we always enrich people’s lives.