Impeccably clean, orderly, technologically advanced, and most strikingly green, modern Singapore is the perfect prototype in the age of design. Known as the garden city, Singapore’s visual impression is vivid, lush, healthy and harmonious thanks largely to the abundance and variety of plants that thrive in its hot and humid equatorial climate. Here streets are lined with beautifully maintained hedges, trees, and flowers. Vertical development opens wide green spaces between Singapore’s sparkling skyscrapers, which themselves are increasingly draped in the vegetation of vertical gardens. The city boasts numerous huge expanses of perfectly manicured green spaces, but nowhere is Singapore’s commitment to natural beauty, innovation, and architecture more dramatically displayed than at the newly constructed Gardens by the Bay.
First opened to the public in the fall of 2011, this sprawling waterfront complex, six years in the making, was the recipient World Building of the Year at the 2012 World Architecture Awards. Located in Singapore’s ultra-modern Marina Bay commercial district, the grounds feature classic Chinese and Malay gardens, meandering waterways, and bountiful native vegetation surrounding its awe-inspiring Supertree Grove and two state of the art conservatories.
The main garden is comprised of twelve manmade supertrees rising up to sixteen stories above the natural landscapes below. Two Supertrees are connected by a 128m elevated walkway which offers breathtaking panoramas of the grounds and the Singapore skyline. These massive structures are designed to mirror the function of the jungle giants long since put down on the island. Like natural supertrees, they provide a home to a vast array of life. Over 200 species of bromliads, orchids and lianas, about 160,000 plants absorb CO2 and release oxygen into the metropolitan air while solar panels attached to their roofs help power their lights and elevators. The supertrees are open on top to help collect water for the vast expanse of gardens below.
Gardens by the Bay is also home to two conservatories built in a scale and complexity unlike any other in the world. One of these conservatories houses an entire cloud forest ecosystem. Under its slanted glass dome stands a 35m (115ft) mountain containing nine different climate zones, the world’s largest indoor waterfall and an incredible array of trees, flowers, and plants native to cloud forests across the world. The air is kept humid by hundreds of misters giving each section the necessary amount of moisture to mimic its natural climate. The cool montane temperatures are efficiently maintained through an onsite biomass power plant and controlled vents in the glass roof which release rising hot air.
Next door, but across the climate spectrum, the Flower Dome has procured an impressive variety of plants from cool dry Mediterranean ecosystems around the world. Slightly misleading in its name, the Flower Dome also contains trees, cactuses, and shrubs from places including Chile, Australia, California, and of course the Mediterranean itself.
The glass domed roofs of these two buildings make them the two largest columnless greenhouses in the world. Functionally, they are the first facet of a holistic system designed to purify rainwater before it reaches the garden’s plants. The conservatories’ windows are connected by a steel grid which provides support in much the same manner as an egg’s shell. Instead of being perfectly symmetrical, one side is sharply sloped while the other much larger side directs the majority of rainwater (Singapore receives nearly 100 inches a year) downward across plant covered slopes towards Dragonfly Lake. The varieties of plants the water runs through on the way to the lake are specifically selected for their cleaning abilities, and more than just a lovely place for a stroll, the lake includes strategically placed marches which naturally filter toxins from the runoff. Water also enters from the marina nearby and including the water collected from the supertrees, 100% of the total water needed for watering the gardens is obtained through this system.
The additional electricity necessary to cool the conservatories is generated at a biomass power plant discretely located on site. Keeping Singapore’s grounds and gardens immaculately maintained produces an exceptional amount of organic mass in the form of trimmings and fallen leaves. These are burnt to produce power. Smoke travels through an array of filters which remove emissions. The nutrient rich ash which remains is then used as an organic fertilizer. With an efficiency and ingenuity characteristic of Singapore, this system alleviates all of the negative inputs and outputs produced by its gardens.
In addition to presenting ecology and technology in a manner that is both beautiful and informative, The Gardens by the Bay seeks to highlight the imminent threats to the ecosystems on display. Within the base of the cloud forest mountain lies an interactive cave adorned with monitors and displays illustrating just how rapidly the world’s most productive ecosystems are disappearing and the factors leading to their demise; namely deforestation and man-made carbon emissions that manifest as global warming. While the facts presented are startling, the proceeding exhibits were careful to point out that through responsible consumer decisions, lifestyle changes, and innovations like those seen throughout the garden, our current path towards destruction can be reversed. In this way, The Gardens by the Bay simultaneously showcase both the problem and the solution while all around the lush vegetation and vibrantly colored flowers illustrate to its thousands of visitors exactly what is at stake.