It’s hard not to be awed by the audacity of Marina Bay, the project that has transformed downtown Singapore’s seafront over two generations. An exorbitantly ambitious piece of civil engineering, it entailed the creation of three massive expanses of reclaimed land and a barrage to seal off the basins of the Singapore and Kallang rivers from the sea. The result is a seaside freshwater reservoir with a crucial role in reducing Singapore’s dependence on Malaysian water supplies.
The Marina Bay Sands casino resort dominates the area, with its museum and rooftop restaurants, and it is inevitably the focus of any visit to the bay, along with the extravagant new Gardens by the Bay next door. Close to the Padang, the Theatres on the Bay arts complex is worth a detour for its skyline views, with more of the same available from the oversized Ferris wheel that is the Singapore Flyer.
Marina Bay Sands
Rarely does a building become an icon quite as instantly as the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, its three 55-floor towers topped and connected by a vast, curved-surfboard-like deck, the SkyPark. The most ambitious undertaking yet by its owners, Las Vegas Sands, it opened in April 2010 and quickly replaced the Merlion as the Singapore image of choice in the travel brochures, summing up the country’s glitzy fascination with mammon. Even if you have no interest in the casino – open, naturally, 24/7 – the complex, which includes a convention centre, a shopping mall, two concert venues, numerous restaurants and its own museum, is well worth exploring. The hotel atrium, often so busy with people gawping that it feels like a busy train station concourse, is especially striking, the sides of the building sloping into each other overhead to give the impression of being inside a narrow glassy pyramid.
Gardens by the Bay
From afar, two vast conservatories, roofs arched like the backs of foraging dinosaurs, announce the southern section of Gardens by the Bay. Touted as a second botanic garden for Singapore, it is split into three chunks around Marina Bay; the southern area, next to Marina Bay Sands, is the largest and very much the centrepiece.
One conservatory houses Mediterranean and African flora, the highlight being the stands of small, bizarrely shaped baobab trees; less impressive are the collections of flowering plants, so tidy that they look like a formal display in a well-kept European park.
The neighbouring conservatory nurtures cloud forest of the kind found on Southeast Asia’s highest peaks, and includes a 35m “mountain” covered in ferns, rhododendrons and insect-eating sundews and butterworts.
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Opinion is split as to whether the two huge, spiked shells that roof the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay project, just east of the Padang and the Esplanade Park, are peerless modernistic architecture or indulgent kitsch. They have variously been compared to kitchen sieves, hedgehogs, even durians (the preferred description among locals), though two giant insect eyes is perhaps the best comparison.
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