Singapore by design

From projects by renowned architects to snazzy interiors and made-by-locals creative concepts, the country has no shortage of attractions to entice design aficionados, discovers Low Shi Ping

Singapore’s landscape is constantly changing, and the silhouette of the central business district now has a new sight.

CapitaSpring is a 51-storey skyscraper, designed by celebrity architects the Bjarke Ingels Group in collaboration with Carlo Ratti Associati, distinctive for its sleek aluminium façade.

Sky Garden at CapitaSpring

Intersecting it are orthogonal pin-striped fins that lend tantalising glimpses into pockets of green terraces and communal spaces at multiple elevations.

As one of the tallest buildings in Singapore at 280m, it is hard not to miss the subtext: design matters to the country.

It is not just the architecture that is eye-catching; there are interiors and landscaping created by big international names.

On a local level, there is a burgeoning made-in-Singapore scene that translates into unique retail experiences perfect for meaningful souvenir shopping, among others.

What all this means is that Singapore is increasingly becoming a destination for design aficionados.

“Design now permeates every part of the country, whether in the form of beautiful, useful products, services and experiences that elevate individual lives, or on a systems level, that yields large-scale, national impact,” pointed out Dawn Lim, executive director of the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg).

Tourists will feel this most keenly first through the architecture of the colonial, heritage, modern and contemporary styles.

Fiamma, Capella Hotel Singapore

For instance, Marina Bay Sands by Moshe Safdie is now a compulsory stop for visitors to Singapore, as is his Jewel Changi Airport on the way in or out of the country.

Lesser known but no less important is the impressive collection of modern buildings, many of which were constructed after Singapore’s independence in 1965. The equivalent of Generation X in human terms, these include Golden Mile Complex by Design Partnership and the Church of St Bernadette by Alfred Wong.

Themed tours are occasionally planned by Docomomo (Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of Modern Movement) Singapore for tourists to explore and get acquainted with them.

“We have one of the highest concentration of modernist buildings in the world and while each has its own unique story to tell, they contribute to the broader narrative of the pioneering phase of our urban renewal,” said Ho Weng Hin, chair of its executive committee.

Tucked in between all that brick and mortar are landscape design attractions that hold their own.

There is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Gardens by the Bay, by architects Wilkinson Eyre and Grant Associates. The National Orchid Garden within was recently enhanced by CPG Consultants and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl. Geometrical shapes that have fan-like forms and a similar roof incline make up the new and revamped structures that are then unified by a meandering trail.

There are also countless restaurants and bars across the city-state that wow with their interior design and compel visitors to sit, sip and feast for hours.

The multi-award-winning Andre Fu Studio from Hong Kong has just completed two: Italian restaurant Fiamma in Capella Singapore, and the cellar of steakhouse 665°F in Andaz Singapore.

Then there are the Singaporean designers gradually making their mark on the local and global stage, fronted by retail concepts that just as alluring.

Oasia Hotel Downtown

Visit the atelier of Roger&Sons, a wood specialist that creates everything from outdoor benches to refined chess sets.

Fashion label Ginlee Studio offers a Make In Shop Experience, a bag-design workshop where shoppers will learn how the brand’s signature pleats are crafted and take home their own customised pleated bag.

Furniture brand Scene Shang has a loft in the suburbs that is worth visiting to immerse in a lifestyle steeped in Asian heritage.

“The design industry has emerged as a creative force – leading Singapore’s drive towards an innovation-driven economy and playing a critical role in making the city a liveable and loveable one,” expressed Dsg’s Lim.

Serving up a slightly different type of design is Tribe Tours, which developed an itinerary focused on three architecture winners of the President’s Design Awards, the highest accolade in the country.

The Hunt for the Green Treasure, as it is called, is gamified to make it more accessible to the man on the street, and includes exclusive entry to a home at public housing project SkyVille @ Dawson.

“People have the perception that design is high-brow, intellectual and difficult to understand. But we beg to differ and want to tell the world that good design is everywhere and accessible to everyone,” said Law Yock Song, who heads partnerships & business development for Tribe Tours.

He is incredibly optimistic that design can be used as a hook to lure more tourists to Singapore.

“It might not be the main purpose of the visit, but it can inspire travel and 
spark curiosity about the destination,” Law said.

Beyond made-in-Singapore products, Dsg’s Lim hopes that tourists will also understand that design in the local context embodies an attitude to improve lives – given how the country wrote its own playbook in almost every aspect of governance.

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