When your entire nation consists of only 274.2 square miles, and you are transitioning to a market-based, service economy, what is an island-nation to do? If you are Singapore, you plan, and you promote design.
Led by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore has greened up its streets, tying them together with ribbons of tree canopy, and built wisely. Individual works seem to matter less than the ensemble. The result is a carefully modulated city filled with contemporary architecture merged with nature. Gardens in the sky (upper stories filled with living vegetation) seem almost commonplace there today, lending a green cap to the green streets and the world-class botanical gardens filled with orchids below.
As a result of human intention, landscape planning, and an nonstop growing season, Singapore may be the most beautiful city in the world today. Other places can boast greater natural gifts, but where else can you step out of a building into a shade-filled undercanopy, where filtered light and vegetation cool the urban density--literally and psychologically. Rather than tame nature, as the west might do, people have learned the Ian McHarg dictum and are designing with her and the results bloom all around.
And still the city builds. The triple 55-story towers of Marina Bay, just across the bay, are looming toward completion. Designed by Moshe Safdie, and joined to the Safdie-designed massive new entertainment complex called Marina Bay Sands, the entire development includes a theater complex, a casino and trade show/exhibition space. A massive, curved punctuation to the skyline, their architectural effect remains to be seen.
A recent tour of the island proved that the design and construction has been dispersed throughout, with cranes operating around and through the country despite the world’s slowdown. The Design Council actively promotes design in all the arts, industrial design, interiors, landscape architecture, fashion, and related fields. Holland, Denmark, Finland all do what Singapore has done, with variations on emphasis. Apparently, Singapore has learned that design with nature sells.