The 1970s playground reinterpreted

27 03 2013

Stepping out from the MRT Station at Raffles Place, the sight of swing sets, see-saws and a merry-go-round, set on a bed of sand as playgrounds of the 1970s might have been, would probably seem odd. That, especially so considering what Raffles Place has become. What perhaps isn’t odd in the context of today’s world is how we have chosen to interact with it … not, if I may quote a friend “enjoyed with head in the wind”, but with the “face on the screen”.

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The playground at Raffles Place is part of a National Parks Board (NParks) roving exhibition, “Playsets of Yesteryears” held to commemorate five decades of greening Singapore. The exhibition which also provides visitors with a look at the history of 12 parks including Toa Payoh Town Park and the Singapore Botanic Gardens will remain at Raffles Place until mid May before moving to East Coast Park in June and July, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park from mid August to mid October, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens in November to December.

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Gardens of enchantment

7 07 2012

Fresh from my visit to the ‘Enchanted Garden‘, I found myself visiting what has to be several gardens of enchantment – exquisite garden displays that I got a peek at during a media preview of the fourth edition of what had to be the top garden and flower show in Asia – the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF). The event which opens today at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, will be held from 7 to 15 July 2012, bringing together some 39 designers from 19 countries who have produced some exquisite garden and flower designs and displays and is expected to draw some 300,000 visitors over the nine-day period.

Visitors to the 4th edition of the Singapore Garden Festival will get to have a feel of some exquisitely designed gardens of enchantment.

The draw of the exhibition must certainly be the experience on Level 6 where 37 masterpieces, the most since the Festival started in 2006 – 15 Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens and 15 Floral Windows to the World, and seven Balcony Garden displays are displayed, featuring both local and international garden designers – 80 percent of whom are making their debut appearance.

Some 37 masterpieces are on display on Level 6 including this show garden in the Landscape category – the work of Sarah Eberle of the UK entitled ‘Continental Drift’ which investigates natural habitats and varying landscapes around the world.

The elevator all dressed up in a garden theme – with artificial turf on its floor, was perhaps a sign of what was to come – stepping out it is the land of fairy tales that greets the visitor – the walkway leading to the exhibition has been dressed up with a fairytale castle themed entrance display with 5-metre tall topiary arches, animal-shaped topiaries, pixies and frog soldiers peeking out from colourful flowering plants and simulated castle walls decorated with climbing plants.

Even the elevator is dressed up for the event.

A fairy tale world welcomes the visitor on Level 6.

One of the winning Fantasy show gardens does in fact incorporate a fairy-tale theme – ‘Garden of Tales’ which is the creation of award-winning local designer Damian Tang which was not only a Gold Medal winner but was also named as the Best of Show for the Fantasy Category. It was one of two that I was drawn to – the other being ‘Luminescent Perspective’ by John Cullen … ones that will certainly leave the visitor enchanted. The ‘Garden of Tales’ inspired by children’s love of fairy tales, is one that through the clever use of frames into each of its five areas – scenes each with a fairy-tale to discover, draws one into it – well described in the fact sheet as “tempting us to peek into different realms of magic, mystery and wonder”. The garden features a one-thousand year old olive tree which was specially shipped in from Spain in a refrigerated shipping container – we were told that the roots of the tree were over two metres wide and the tree almost cold not fit into the container.

I was drawn into the ‘Garden of Tales’ through windows into each of the five scenes that depict scenes from popular fairy-tales.

A scene from Alice in Wonderland.

And one from Little Red Riding Hood.

The creator Damian Tang posing for a photograph.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’ is one that celebrates the ever-changing nature of gardens and features a lighting sequence that every two minutes will take visitors through the changes in light through the day – from dawn to dusk. The garden which picked up the Gold and People’s Choice Award also features a rotating carousel and was my personal favourite – being one that welcomes the visitor in – one in the word of the designer in which children can be children in.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’.

Another display which has lighting effects – as well as sound and movement, is New Zealand’s Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ ‘Ruaumoko’. The Fantasy Show Garden is named after the Maori god of earthquakes – Ruaumoko – the unborn son of Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) whose movements in his mother’s womb is said in Maori mythology to be felt as earthquakes across the world. It features an earthquake like movement that lasts 40 seconds – the length of the large shock that hit the designers’ home city of Christchurch in February 2011. The garden picked up a Gold Medal for SGF.

An image of Ruaumoko at Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ fantasy themed garden.

An eye-catching display in the Floral Windows to the World Category is the ‘Floral Kaleidoscope’ designed by Harijanto Setiawan which picked up a Gold Medal as well as being named the Best of Show for the category. I loved kaleidoscopes as a child and seeing the display has certainly rekindled my fascination for kaleidoscopes. The display is a celebration of life and the never end change in nature.

The kaleidoscope (in the window below) makes use of a reflection of an illuminated floral display on the ceiling.

A look into the kaleidoscope.

A new and interesting category at this year’s festival is the Balcony Gardens competition. This will feature displays that are very appropriate for us in Singapore – displays that creatively make use of 3 metre by 3 metre spaces. Out of seven entries, there were two Gold Medal winners – Toh Lee Hua and Veera Sekaran. Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ – the Best of Show winner, takes city-dwellers’ busy lifestyles and creates a green space in an urban environment that requires minimum upkeep.

Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ uses neat displays of terrariums which require little maintenance.

Veera Sekaran’s ‘Living Green Balcony’.

On the evidence of what I had a quick glance at, there is a lot more visual treats that’s there to discover and I would, if I could, have spent the entire day walking around the displays on level 6 (there is more to see on level 4 which I have not yet seen) and I would certainly be back for more over the next nine days. Tickets for the show are available at the ticketing kiosks located at level 3 of the Suntec Convention Centre during the show period. Ticket Prices are S$10 (Weekdays – Monday to Friday) and S$14 (Weekends – Saturday and Sunday) for adults and S$5 / S$8 for children, students and senior citizens (children under 0.9 metres in height go in free). Family Tickets (2 Adults and 3 Children) are also available at S$20 (weekdays) and S$38 (weekends).

Gold Medal winner Andrew Seccull’s ‘Mazu’s Garden’ is set on a platform that represents a floating house – with many elements that relate to the sea – a garden for the protector of fisherman in Chinese belief, Mazu, to meditate.

The are a lot more visual treats to discover beyond the winning entries.

Visitors to the show can also participate in the SGF “Colours” photography competition which offers great prizes that include a Sony Nex-F3 camera. Participants can take a photo they feel best depicts the theme “Colours” and submit it through Singapore Garden Festival’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/sggardenfest. The public can then vote for their favourite photo on the Facebook page’s contest tab. A range of prizes are up for grabs for both participants and voters. The Festival is organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and its key partners, the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia (OSSEA), Singapore Gardening Society and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). For more information, please visit the Singapore Garden Festival website or Facebook page.


All photographs accompanying this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.






The new light in the old harbour

29 11 2011

There’s a new world out there, right where the flicker of the dim lights of the hundreds of ships at anchor and where the occasional moving of beam from the top of Fullerton Building would have once swept across. Built on a large finger of land that had been reclaimed from what had mostly been the Outer Roads of the harbour, the finger of land now also forms part of what encloses what is now Marina Bay – and is perhaps where Singapore’s transformation to a modern new city would best be seen. It is in place of the dim lights of the ships, that the glow of a new world has begun to emerge, first with the Marina Bay Sands complex and now across the expressway at the soon to be completed Gardens by the Bay. It is at the Gardens, of which we had a sneak peek at during the recently concluded 20WOC World Orchid Show, where a fantasy land of illuminated structures that look like they come from a set of a sci-fi movie will emerge, which on the evidence of the preview, would certainly be something to look forward to when the Gardens by the Bay opens in June 2012.

A new world emerges out of what had once been the harbour. Supertrees llluminate the nightscape at the Gardens by the Bay under the gaze of the Marina Bay Sands complex and a rain cloud laden sky.

Changing hues of the Supertrees.

The view across the Dragonfly Lake from the Dragonfly Bridge.

The Chinese Garden - part of the Heritage Gardens.

Frames of the Flower Dome by night.





Finding a colourful little bit of paradise at Marina Bay

15 11 2011

Advertising brochures and banners for the 20th World Orchid Conference (20WOC) World Orchid Show, now on at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre beckons visitors by promising to find them a ‘little piece of paradise’. While orchids are not what I would naturally associate with a piece of paradise, being amongst the colourful displays, 75 in all, of 50,000 orchids of about 5,000 varieties – it wasn’t hard to imagine that I had found myself in that little bit of paradise that seems to elude me wandering around the cityscape we are immersed in in much of Singapore. The show is part of the 20WOC which was opened by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Saturday, giving Singapore the distinction of being the only Asian city to host the WOC for the second time, the first being in 1963. The WOC is a triennal event which is the largest in the international orchid calendar and the 20WOC sees participation from 55 countries and comprises of three components – the conference, the orchid show and a marketplace which features orchids, orchid related and themed products on offer by 80 vendors from 17 countries.

The World Orchid Show sees a dazzling array of 50,000 orchids of about 5,000 varieties on display at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

It was the colour and variety at the show that most attracted me, the displays of which I could take in a leisure before the crowds arrived during the first two hours of the show’s opening to the public – many varieties of which I had seen for the very first time and I was contented just to immerse myself in the stunning displays of orchids of a variety I never had in my previous encounters with orchids, realised that were!

Paphiopedilums - ones that I took a particular liking to.

The show offers more than just competitive floral arrangements, one feature is the educational displays which include information on the Orchid Programme undertaken by the Singapore Botanical Gardens, Seed Germination and In-vitro Cultivation, a display of orchids named after VIP visitors to Singapore, and a Walk of Fame. There are several interesting themes within the display as well – including competitive Ikebana Arrangements – a total of 55 arrangements are on display (3 of which are non-competitive) and other Floral Arrangements which include Table Arrangements and Bridal Bouquets. The various competitive components of the show sees more than 743 ribbons, medals, and trophies awarded by over 210 orchid judges to the best orchids with the Chaiwathana Orchid Garden and the Orchid Society of Papua New Guinea clinching the top honours.

Ikebana Inspiration - an Ikebana orchid arrangement by Dab-Gil Jose Adoyo of the Philippines at the World Orchid Show.

Another Ikebana arrangement on display.

The show is on until the 20th of November and a bonus awaits visitors to the show – a sneak preview of the Flower Dome and parts of the wonderful new Gardens by the Bay (the garden, less the Flower Dome, is also opened to members of the public without a ticket to the World Orchid Show during the period), which is scheduled to open in June 2010. Information on the 20WOC, including admission and ticketing to the World Orchid Show, can be found at the WOC’s site. Further information on the Gardens by the Bay can be found at their website.

Orchids and more orchids of a variety and quantity I had never in my life known to exist.

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A sneak peek at the Gardens by the Bay

13 11 2011

Latest updates and a preview of Cloud Forest
Latest updates (from a 3 Apr 2012 Media Preview) on the Gardens by the Bay’s Bay South Gardens opening, opening hours, admission rates and the Cloud Forest can be found in this post: An ascent into the clouds.


It is hard not to notice that massive project that is being undertaken by the National Parks Board (NParks) to create a garden in the Marina Bay area that is part of a greater effort to transform Singapore from a ‘Garden City’ to a ‘City in a Garden’ with the obvious signs from the sprouting of the supertrees that are very visible in the area. Occupying 101 hectares of prime land by the waterside in Singapore’s new downtown, the Gardens by the Bay will, when the first phase is completed in June 2012, offer visitors an opportunity to savour a 54 hectare site at the Bay South, just across the East Coast Parkway from the Marina Bay Integrated Resort, designed by UK-based landscape architecture firm Grant Associates, that will offer Horticultural Themed Gardens, Supertrees and a chance to experience the environments of the cool-dry springtime climates of the Mediterranean and semi-arid sub-tropical regions as well as the cool-moist climate of the Tropical Montane regions such as in Mount Kinabalu in two cooled glass conservatories.

It is hard not to notice the futuristic looking glass domes, and ...

... the sprouting of the Supertrees.

Several of us were able to have a sneak peek at what will be on offer at the Gardens by the Bay, which will feature as one of the venues in the 20th World Orchid Conference (20WOC) World Orchid Show, which Singapore is hosting for the second time this November, yesterday. What we were able to see were the sections which were made ready for the preview – the Heritage Gardens, Dragonfly Lake (and Dragonfly Bridge which connects the strip of land between the ECP to the Gardens), the Supertrees at the Golden and Silver Gardens and one of the cooled Conservatories – the Flower Dome, which features some never seen before and thoroughly fascinating plants from the cool-dry Mediterranean and semi-arid climates around the world.

The foliage of Supertrees, which are tree-like structures 25 to 50 metres in height are vertical gardens with an emphasis on creating a 'wow' factor, seen with a natural tree.

The preview, which was for members of the media, started with a briefing chaired by the CEO of Gardens by the Bay, Dr Kiat W. Tan and the COO, Mr Kenneth Er. We were guided through a plan of the Gardens and the features of each area of the Gardens – which would cost approximately SGD 1 billion to build. The Gardens by the Bay would include the current area of focus, the Bay South area, as well as a 32 hectare site at Bay East which is being designed by another UK firm Gustafson Porter, and Bay Central – which will have a 3 km waterfront promenade that will offer stunning views of the city.

The Dragonfly Lake with the Supertrees at the Silver Garden in the background as seen from the Dragonfly Bridge.

Next it was a preview of the opened parts of the Gardens itself, which we were told, needed a huge effort to get ready for the WOC sneak preview, which will include the Flower Dome, where there is a display of some 14,000 orchids – 150 hybrids and 30 species from around the world which include Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and South America.

One of the parts of the Gardens by the Bay opened for the sneak preview was the Flower Dome.

The external areas we had access to did appear to be short of tree cover and shade, and perhaps a little too much concrete for a garden – perhaps as the space was one that was created to blend in with the area and one that required itself to be different from the existing parks and gardens. The fact that the garden was new was another factor and perhaps a more garden-like feel to the garden would come as the trees in the garden matures. The Heritage Gardens was an interesting concept, and allows visitors to move through spaces that are connected with the three major ethnic groups that featured in the development of Singapore as well as with the colonial establishment, with plants and trees which feature in the cultural practices and cooking of the respective ethnic groups.

A sculpture in the Chinese Garden - to represent the numerous Chinese who have left their homeland to seek a better life elsewhere.

A rockery with palms and cycads in the Chinese Garden.

The highlight for me was the visit to the Flower Dome, which covers an area of 1.2 hectares (or 2.2 football fields) under a steel frame supported glass structure which features 3,332 glass panels of 42 varying shapes and sizes and is 45 metres high. What was interesting to learn during the briefing about the Flower Dome – and the smaller neighbouring Cloud Forest (which isn’t completed yet), was of the innovative cooling system which makes use of biomass from horticultural waste generated by NPark’s parks and gardens. An holistic approach is also taken to maintain both temperature and humidity, resulting in an estimated 30% savings in energy consumption compared to conventional methods which also involves:

  • Minimising solar heat gain while allowing maximum light through the use of spectrally selective glass and light sensor operated shadings,
  • Cooling only of the occupied areas through thermal stratification which ensures cool air settles on the ground and warmer air is vented to the upper levels, and,
  • An efficient dehumidification process which de-couples the de-humidification of air from the cooling process using a liquid dessicant to first remove moisture.

Innovative energy efficient methods involving the use of NPark's own biomass waste is used to cool the Conservatories.

Chilled water pipes run below the Flower Dome to cool the ground.

Walking into the cool Flower Dome, one can’t help but be impressed with what has been achieved, as well as with the visual treat provided by the curved glass and steel roof. The Flower Dome is arranged to move the visitor from one cool-dry region to another, from semi-arid regions that represent areas such as the Australian Bush, South Africa, South America, the United States and Madagascar to the springtime climate of the Mediterranean. On display are Baobabs (Bottle Trees), Ghost Trees, Cacti and Succulents, as well as the fire adapted plants of the Australian Garden, the moisture rich plants such as various species of Aloe Vera in the South African Garden, the trees of the Mediterranean region in the Olive Grove such such Fig and Olive Trees, as well as some fascinating trees such as the Monkey Puzzle Tree and the Chilean Wine Palm in the South American Garden.

The Baobabs.

The Succulent Garden.

Cacti in the Succulent Garden.

A Ghost Tree - planted near graveyards in Madagascar and is said to have medicinal uses.

An Aloe plant in the South African Garden.

The leaves and branches of the Monkey Puzzle Tree - so named because a UK based specimen owner remarked that it would 'puzzle a monkey to climb the tree'.

Chilean Wine Palms - natives used to fall the trees to harvest the sap which is used to make an alcoholic beverage.

The highlight for me - 1000 year old olive trees in the Olive Grove. The trees were ones that were affected by development in Spain and transported by refrigerated container to Singapore.

The trunk of an Olive Tree.

The Flower Dome also features a Flower Field, which will feature changing displays of flowers to reflect different seasons, themes and festivals – including its current display of orchids for the WOC. The Flower Dome will also see two F&B outlets, as well as an event space for 800 to 1000 people. The event space will be used to host a gala dinner for the WOC.

The Flower Field in the Flower Dome which will feature changing displays of flowers to reflect different seasons, festivals and themes. It currently displays orchids for the 20th WOC.

Phalaenopsis on display in the Flower Field of the Flower Dome during the WOC.

More Phalaenopsis on display.

And yet more!

Visitors to the WOC would be able to visit the Flower Dome for a sneak preview during a one week period from the 14th to the 20th of November with a ticket to the WOC. Further to this, visitors as well as members of the public without admission tickets to the 20WOC World Orchid Show would also be have a look at the external areas of the Gardens by the Bay which are ready. Information on the 20WOC World Orchid Show, including admission and ticketing, can be found at the 20WOC’s site. Further information on the Gardens by the Bay can be found at their website.