There’s something whimsical about seeing a familiar location with new eyes, or stumbling upon a previously undiscovered spot right in your own backyard. “Wow” you might exclaim. “How did I not know that this existed in Singapore?”
As travel restrictions around the world continue to put limitations on our travel plans for the year, there’s perhaps no better time than now to become a tourist of Singapore. You don’t have to travel to far-flung areas like Pulau Ubin or Coney Island (unless you want to, of course) to experience a whole new Singapore: sometimes the trick to gaining new perspectives is just knowing where to look.
And right at the heart of the Central Business District, familiar and iconic buildings are home to more history and stories than you’d probably have realised. Plan a walk around the CBD and you might just look at them with new eyes. Cold and unfeeling? Not in the least.
Here’s how to do it:
Start off right at the heart of the CBD at the ultra-sleek Marina One. On the surface, it’s the landing point to some well-known brands like Facebook and Prudential. But look past the avant-garde grandeur of its architecture, and it is actuallyhome to some stunning art installations from local and Malaysian artists. It also has plenty of heart – pun unintended. At the core of it is The Green Heart @ Marina One, which, even on busy weekdays, is a much-welcomed oasis of peace and calm in a buzzy hive of activity.
Take a moment to meander around the terraces, check out the close to 400 plant species – including trees, shrubs, ferns, palms and bamboo, as well as climbing and trailing plants – and listen to the rush of water from the three-storey waterfall. The centrepiece of The Green Heart is the auspiciously named sculpture Fortune Bowl, named so for its shape, inspired by the feng shui concept of a “barrel of wealth”. And if you are one to believe in feng shui, the design of Marina One has been said to aid in the accumulation of wealth and positive energy, and creates a sense of stability for its office dwellers and residents. Fact or superstition – you decide.
A 5-minute walk away is another structure that shares a similarly iconic structure and propensity for the modern and futuristic – the ArtScience Museum. Designed by famed Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie (who also designed Marina Bay Sands and Jewel), the museum has been dubbed “the welcome hand of Singapore” in reference to its building structure anchored by a round base in the middle with ten extensions. It is also reminiscent of a lotus flower, a symbol of enlightenment, growth, and good fortune. Fun fact: skylights are installed at each of the “fingertip” and double up as sustainable illumination for the gallery interiors.
Don’t miss the ever-timely Planet or Plastic?, ArtScience Museum’s first exhibition to launch since re-opening after the Circuit Breaker, which highlights the global plastic waste crisis through powerful pictures and videos. [Exhibition on till 28 Mar 2021]
Next, cut across the Helix Bridge – a veritable art installation itself and so named to represent “life and continuity, renewal and growth” – and take a slight detour from the bay to the Singapore Flyer.
Like many of the structures along Marina Bay, the Singapore Flyer’s construction was very much guided by fengshui. The wheel was apparently configured to spin inwards towards the city to bring fortune and prosperity to the country. 28 viewing capsules, each designed to hold a maximum of 28 people make up the Flyer – when translated to Cantonese, the numbers two and eight sound like the Chinese words for “easy prosperity”. Definitely something to chew on as you stand in one of the capsules of Asia’s largest observation wheel, overlooking the city skyline, seafront and on a good, clear day, neighbouring countries. And here’s a bonus: You can use your $100 Singapore Rediscovers vouchers right here – you just need to book your tickets through GlobalTix, a homegrown Singaporean startup appointed by Singapore Tourism Board.
After that, head over to the iconic Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. While we all affectionately know it as ‘the durian’, the Esplanade’s original winning design proposal was for the centre to be a “lantern in the park” – something far more subtle. However, as the design evolved, the unmistakable shape of the durian started to take form, and henceforth gave the building its nickname. And just like its prickly exterior, cleaning the Esplanade is no mean feat: each of the iconic spikes is cleaned by hand by trained Rope Access Technicians who have to don safety lines, working ropes and harnesses for the gig. The entire task to clean both domes takes approximately two months!
Concerts and live music performances at the Esplanade are slowly resuming. Alternatively, you can also check out the various free visual arts exhibitions held at spaces like the Esplanade Tunnel and the Community Wall at level three.
While you are on this trail, don’t miss popping over to the Asian Civilisations Museum for a quick look of more than 2,000 artefacts, hailing from the civilisations of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. The building was formerly known as the Empress Place Building, which functioned as government offices during the colonial years all the way till the late 1980s. Numerous restorations and extensions have retained the building’s original neoclassical Palladian architectural style.
By this point, depending on what hour of the day you started out, it might be an ideal time to make a U-turn back towards Marina Bay. Take a leisurely stroll along the waters of Marina Bay towards Marina Barrage – the walk should take about 45 minutes – and end off your day of getting reacquainted with Singapore’s most iconic architecture at the Green Roof. A popular gathering place for families to have picnics and fly kites, the Green Roof is a beautiful spot with panoramic views and vast expanses of greenery for company. It is the perfect location for a moment of quiet contemplation, before you make your way back to the starting point.
And if you would rather go on an abridged version of all of that with a local tour guide instead of just wandering around on your own, check out these two-hour guided tour of Marina Bay, including Flower Dome, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove, the Helix Bridge and more, that you can use your Singapore Rediscover Vouchers for.