Singapore might be the smallest country in Southeast Asia, but that isn’t stopping the 272-square-mile city-state from trying to become a big player in the global financial marketplace.

With is central business district bursting at the seams, the country, comprised of a cluster of islands, is now directing its attention to the southern edge of its largest island, where 890 acres sit largely undeveloped. This prime waterfront real estate is reclaimed land, created decades ago to provide ample room for future growth, according to Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The future has arrived. Construction is now under way on Marina Bay: a mixed-use development that aims to be a world-class, 24-7, work-play environment. The ambitious scheme calls for office towers, hotels, retail space, and entertainment venues—all of which will wrap around a marina. Landscaping will include tropical gardens totaling nearly 250 acres, a project master-planned by the UK-based firms, Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter. The country also is investing in large-scale infrastructure projects, including three rapid-transit railway stations.

Marina Bay is luring companies—and architects—from around the globe. So far, it “has attracted $11.8 billion of private investment,” says Chan Pong Choy, the URA’s director of land administration. Las Vegas Sands is building a $3.6-billion casino-resort, designed by Moshe Safdie Associates, and the British bank Standard Chartered has agreed to rent an office tower in Marina Bay’s financial district.

Several buildings are already up and running. The 30,000-seat Marina Bay Floating Stadium, designed and built by the government, opened last year. Also completed in 2007 was Singapore Flyer, a 541-foot-high observation wheel designed by Kisho Kurokawa Architects, Arup, and the local firm DP Architects.

While Marina Bay will have its flashy architecture, urban design in Singapore is about having an “interesting but ordered skyline, with the emphasis being more on creating iconic public spaces rather than iconic buildings,” says Kohn Pedersen Fox principal Paul Katz. In that spirit, KPF has designed five understated for Marina Bay. The first two high-rises were finished in 2006, and the others should be completed by 2012. 

Other projects in the area include a 32,000-square-foot Art Park and a striking 919-foot-long stainless-steel pedestrian bridge. Designed by Cox Group and Arup, the bridge’s design evokes the double-helix structure of DNA, explains Philip Cox, principal of Cox Group. To be completed in 2009, the bridge’s five viewing platforms will offer views of Marina Barrage, a recently constructed dam that will turn the bay into a freshwater reservoir by blocking its connection to the Singapore Strait and the sea beyond.

One project nearing completion is The Sail @ Marina Bay: a pair of glass and steel towers by Seattle-based NBBJ. The $200-million project contains 1.2 million square feet of luxury residential space. Peter Pran, the firm’s design principal, says that Tower One, which tapers upward, “looks like a sailboat that’s come in and anchored in the harbor.”