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Rains Journal – Vol. 11: Gardens by The Bay

June 11, 2018

The faunal fairytale of Gardens by The Bay

Words: Daniel S. Bahrami
Photo: Christian Scholl

Giant super trees blooming far up in the sky, two enormous glass domes housing thousands of different flower species and picturesque lakes with their own unique ecosystem all of which are located in the heart of one of the most industrialized cities of the world.

Singapore is richer in plant species than any other land in the world. Even though half of the New York City-sized country is covered in plants, this immensely dense populated place is one of the most industrialized in the world, and in order to make it habitable it has forced them to adapt to the surroundings.

A plan was created to create a horticultural landscape that not only helped with reclaiming more green areas, but also stretching the boundaries of engineering, being environmentally sustainable and all the while maintaining its aesthetic charm. The result was the amazing Gardens by The Bay; a must-see destination showcasing 80% of the world’s plant species in one place. An idea that was outrageous on paper, and even in flesh is still a miracle among engineers and architects alike, cementing Singapore’s international reputation as one of the most green and forward-thinking nations of the world. At first glance this preternatural landscape looks like a backdrop from the movie Avatar, and with playful names such as Super Tree Grove, Cloud Forest, Flower Dome, Heritage Gardens and Dragonfly Lake, the different sections of this vast park immediately transport you to a world seemingly far away.

This ethereal landscape, spanning the equivalent of 177 soccer fields, is one of the most remarkable man-made architectural projects of the 21st century. It is a conservatory for a majority of the world’s plant species and is a withering comeback to an ever-industrialized world where urbanization is predicted to grow a staggering 30% across the globe in this decade alone. Gardens by The Bay is a more grand and modern version of New York’s Central Park, an acclimation to the developed world, clearing more and more green areas, and raises the bar for future projects alike.

An oasis in the city

Singapore has always been a frontrunner when it comes to green thinking, earning them the international nickname, Garden City. This project was a direct initiative to solidify that reputation and move more towards the title of “A City in a Garden” rather than the former.

When Singapore officials first opened for bids to design this fairy-like playground, the brief was simple; they wanted to create one of the most amazing tropical gardens in the world and the best outdoor recreational space in Singapore. They wanted a new icon of nature and sustainability - not only for Singapore but for the world.

Gardens by The Bay are located close to the skyline of the financial district and the majestic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which itself offers a spectacular view with the creative design. If it wasn’t for the countless square meters of green landscapes, you could easily forget that you were right in the middle of a metropolis.

Undoubtedly the most aweinspiring sights are the giant Super Trees. Inspired by the orchid, Singapore’s national flower, these 18 colossal metal structures budding up to 50 meters high have quickly become an iconic part of the city and a sight to be seen from a great distance. The Super Trees are fundamentally vertical gardens adorned by purplish colored trelliswork, and act as a home to more than 300 different species of plant life.

During the day, the canopy of these mammoth trees provide shade for the many spectators, while in the nighttime they put on a spectacularly choreographed light show accompanied by music, reminiscent of the magic fountains of Dubai and Las Vegas. Interlocking these trees is the OCBC Skyway - a 128-meter long bridge giving you an aerial and panoramic view of the gardens, at an elevation of 22 meters. Adjacent to the trees, two engineering masterpieces face the waterfront. Flower Dome and Cloud Forest are the names for these giant glass domes that combined house around 160.000 plants.

Flower Dome houses Mediterranean cool and dry climate plants. The name is an ode to the array of colorful flowers of all different shapes and sizes from all over the world. The neighboring Cloud Forest is the home to more tropical plants. The first sight as you enter this dome is the 30-meter high indoor waterfall - the biggest of its kind. At select times during the day a gentle mist is sprayed in the dome in order to maintain the plants, and the sight of the mist softly covering the plants gives name to this showground as it looks exactly like you are in a cloud.


The inspiration of nature

The incredible visuals are only half of the spectacular magnum opus of Singapore. Building these domes to be able to sustain such a variety of different plant species from different climates, as well as protecting the exterior from extreme heat and tropical monsoon was no easy task.

The 58-meter tall sphere of Cloud Forest is narrower from north to south and wider from east to the west. This design was inspired by one of nature’s natural buildings that are notorious for their almost indestructible facade - the mounds of Borrassa termites. These termites have learned to build their houses in a way to regulate the temperature in conjunction with the route of the sun to create the perfect environment for reproduction.

Protecting the exterior of the domes from the harsh climate was another problem. But the answer was found by studying the human body’s natural defenses. Massive steel ribs protect the glass by absorbing and deflecting the power of the strong winds in the same manner the human rib cage protects our vital organs from outside blows.

How though, does an olive tree, which thrives in the Mediterranean climates of Spain, live almost side by side with the tropical Amazon lily? You could naturally assume that a project of this magnitude would be counterintuitive in the sense that the cost of energy necessary to maintain the various ecosystems would result in more harm than good.

On the contrary, right from the get-go Singapore officials wanted every part of this $800 million landscape to be sustainable and one of their main demands was that neither of the domes could use more energy than a conventional office building. Their goal was to create more green spaces to benefit the environment and for the gardens to showcase the adaptations of environmental technologies and contemporary thinking with regard to management of natural resources.

In order to achieve this, the gardens take advantage of the local weather. As humid winds blow into the Flower Dome through pipes, a giant desiccant is used to absorb the humidity in the air, resulting in a new supply of warm dry air. This air is then cooled off before reaching the plants, making the two elements with the presumed highest energy consumption, cooling and dehumidifying, a cheap and sustainable breeze.

The glass elements themselves trap the solar energy inside, making it possible for the glass only to absorb the necessary amount of heat. This creates an environment that is temperature controlled through a mirror effect that controls the light that enters.

Sunlight also plays a pivotal role for the remarkable Super Trees. The tops are studded with hundreds of solar cells. These both help power other parts of the gardens, and also completely sustains the colorful light show that these trees put on each night for the droves of excited spectators. The trees also have water tanks atop the canopies to collect the rainwater. This is then filtered down and pushed back up again to water all the plants growing on the trees.

A greener future?

Although Gardens by the Bay is an oasis of green life and the number one tourist attraction in the country, the creation of it was brought to life because of the diminishment of green spaces across the globe.

A limited space for horticulture is forcing all the biggest metropolises to think creatively. Another prime example of how you can make use of available spaces by adapting to the environment of the city is Milan. 2014 saw the completion of Bosco Verticale (the vertical forest) - an attempt to create a forest among skyscrapers with the missions of giving back to nature the space that urbanization is taking away from it.

Dubbed the modern day Hanging Gardens of Babylon, this project is home to about 800 trees and 15,000 plants. The equivalent to a forest area of around two American football fields - only the vertical variety takes up around a tenth of that space. Other than producing humidity in the warm climate and absorbing carbon dioxide, this plant haven is also home to a variety of birds, butterflies and other insects.

Stefano Boeri designed the project, and both this and Gardens by the Bay seemed like radical ideas that appeared nearly impossible to execute. However, since the completion China, Switzerland and the Netherlands have all commissioned Boeri to design similar projects in each respective country. With the current speed at which we are experiencing urbanization and overpopulation, radical thinking is necessary in order for us to adapt.

Modern day society has forced our rainforests and tropical jungles to slowly be overtaken by concrete jungles. As we continue to deplete the amount of horizontal space to grow greener, it’s curious to think, in the face of projects such as these, that the future might become even more vertically green.

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