1960s – Bank of China tallest landmark
[Source: Editions Didier Millet, National Archives of Singapore]

 

1970s – OCBC centre by I.M Pei, International Plaza, DBS building
[Source: NHB]

 

1980s – OUB building by Kenzo Tange, Shell tower, Singtel Building, Six Battery Road
[Source: Pakcik Salleh, Flickr]

 

1990s – UOB Plaza 1 & 2
[Source: LutzP, Paranomio]

 

2000s – Republic plaza, Capital tower, SIA building, Maybank tower, Esplanade by Micheal Wilford
[Source: Singapore Flyer website]

 

Present – Downtown Marina Bay, Marina Bay Sands by Moshe Safdie
[Chen Si Yuan, Wikipedia]

 

              The evolution of Singapore’s city center and financial district over the past few decades, is a drastic and impactful one. This current glamourous skyline studded with the works of well-known foreign architects took less than 50 years in the making with the brand new Marina Bay downtown area, all on reclaimed land, erected in less than a decade.

              Since its independence in 1965, Singapore’s central financial district has been a site to many architectural works by well-known foreign architects. Initial works were commissioned to attract global business while later works evolved with the city’s visions to serve as tourist-magnet architecture. The 1970s and 80s businesses drew attention to themselves by constructing high quality landmark buildings. These include high-rise buildings by Prizker Prize winners such as the OCBC centre by I.M Pei and the OUB building by Kenzo Tange. In 1986, with the construction of the the OUB building complete, Singapore gained recognition worldwide for having the tallest building outside of North America. This building started a competition among asian cities for the tallest building, each one trying to surpass the previous in height. The OUB centre was overtaken by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, followed by the Taipei 101 in Tapei and the eventually the recent Burj Dubai in Dubai, each city gaining the focus of the world’s attention each time. Singapore was not able to keep up with this contest for the ‘world’s tallest building’ due to the city center’s proximity to the airport. However, it did continue to distinguish itself and bring recognition to the city through the development of iconic landmarks in its city center.

              In 1995, Rem Koolhas, in his article ‘Singapore Songlines: 30 years of Tabula Rasa’ theorised Singapore as a generic city which he declares as ‘a city without qualities’. He mentions that Singapore is just a by-product of the urban planner’s utopian vision of keeping up with the contemporary. Singapore, envisioned to be a global city, could not remain without qualities if it were to compete in a globalised world economy. As such, in 2000, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) revealed new plans for Singapore in an exhibition called ‘A Unique City in the Making’. They aimed to make the city more imageable and unique by redefining it with landmark buildings, gateways, focal points, view corridors and look-out points. More daring and impactful designs were encouraged such as the Esplanade by Micheal Wilford and the Marina Bay Sands casino-hotel by Moshe Safdie.

              By relying on the design of landmark buildings and spaces to construct an identity for Singapore, there is the danger that such development may merely be, as Tan Ju Meng, in the ‘A Unique city in the Making’ exhibition brochure describes, ‘a fashion runway of buildings non-specific and meaningless to Singaporeans’. The transformation and development of the downtown Marina Bay with its Marina Bay Sands casino-hotel is undoubtedly an economic success, as an imageable part of the city that brings in flocks of tourists. Architecturally, the entire development is a visual feast, creating image ‘trophies’ for visitors and tourists to bring home. However, one may wonder, beyond being attractive ‘architectural bling’, what do these developments mean to the different groups of people living in Singapore? Is it something the locals can identify with?