Asia, Ecology

Avant-garden

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The futuristic Gardens by the Bay have become one of Singapore’s major attractions since opening one year ago.

 

It looks like a scene from a science fiction movie. Stroll down Singapore’s Marina Bay and you will see 50-metre-tall trees branch out across blossoming gardens. Two air-conditioned conservatories lurk by the seaside, with glasshouse exteriors akin to giant snail shells. Inside one of them, a 35-metre-high mountain releases the world’s largest indoor waterfall. Welcome to the Gardens by the Bay.

The high-tech facility spearheads a strategy by the National Parks Board to increase the flora and green spaces in Singapore. The wider target is to boost the quality of life. In January 2006 they launched a designer competition for the complex. It drew more than 70 entries submitted by 170 firms. The winners, Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter, both from Britain, designed the Bay South and the Bay East. A third part, the Bay Central, was developed later.

Juriah-Mosin

The gardens opened in June 2012. The finished product was an ecological and sustainable complex with flowers from all over the world. Three million people visited within the first seven months. “This is the first tropically-focused garden”, Tan Wee Kiat, the project’s chief executive, said. “We are competing for the interest of the young, who are more seduced by informational technology and we have to reconnect them to [nature].”

Of the gardens’ many features, some are more notable than others. Immediately obvious are the stalky, man-made ‘Supertrees’ dominating the landscape. They are stabilised by a concrete core and a trunk. On the outside are flowers, shaded by a large canopy. There are 18 trees, 11 of which are equipped with photovoltaic cells to harness solar energy. Two are connected by a spectacular 128-metre-long suspended walkway. All in all, the trees are covered by more than 160,000 plants, and more than 200 species.

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The two ‘snail shells’ are cooled ecosystems. One is called the ‘Flower Dome’ and is based in the South Bay Garden. Here the climate is ‘cool-dry’ and gives life to flowers from places such as South Africa, California, Italy and Spain. Inside is also the largest tulip display in Singapore, featuring 20,000 bulbs from Amsterdam. There is even a custom-made Dutch windmill. The exterior is made of more than 3,300 panels. They rest on a steel grid that acts like an eggshell (though it is hopefully more solid than that).

The other glasshouse is named the ‘Cloud Forest’. The air is cool and misty to best cater for the flora. Here a mountain has been erected, with a waterfall streaming down.

The gardens’ ecological ethos should not go unmentioned. According to the complex, the two conservatories use cooling technology that saves 30 per cent energy compared to regular methods. To further reduce energy requirements, the inside air is ‘de-humidified’ by liquid desiccant – a drying agent, recycled using waste from the burning of biomass – before the air is cooled. The glass concedes the ideal amount of light while blocking out heat. Finally, on the roof, sensor-operated sails shade the plants automatically whenever needed. The new standard for gardening has been set.

Photos: Juriah Mosin, tristan tan [both via Shutterstock.com].

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