Singapore – Been There
Island of Supertrees and Biodomes
Singapore has numerous set-piece visitor attractions, from its loudly acclaimed Zoo to the nut-strewn floors and pre-mixed Singapore Slings at Raffles’ Long Bar, but the one that really catches my imagination is Gardens by the Bay.
It is partly due to the sheer ambition of the project – 100 hectares of reclaimed harbor that’s been morphed into a fertile land of plenty, complete with vast temperature-controlled biodomes, waterfalls and groves of 50-meter-high “Supertrees”. The whole thing has been designed to self-sustain by, as far as possible, generating its own green energy. It is a remarkable development, and an interesting concept too. On the one hand it points back to the island’s past as a tropical wilderness, and on the other is a pretty bold statement of eco-design and 21st century technology. As I walk around, it all comes across as very Singaporean – I cannot imagine it being pulled off in quite the same way in many other parts of Asia.
The biodomes draw the crowds, but for me the most thought-provoking parts of the complex turn out to be the outdoor heritage gardens. There are four themed areas, dedicated in turn to plants of Indian, Chinese and Malay origin with, finally, colonial species such as rubber trees and coffee bushes. The idea is that they represent the four main groups of the country’s migrant society, and – when you look from the plants to the towering urban backdrop and back again – it is cause to reflect on just what a big and extraordinary thing Singapore has evolved into over the last 200 years.
One other detail seems relevant too. Close to the heritage gardens is a landscaped lake, and as I walk around its edge I spot terrapins under the water and dragonflies skimming the surface. Curious as to how they have reached an artificial lake, I ask a member of staff. “Oh, we brought them here,” she says, cheerily. “They’re to discourage mosquitoes.” It seems very Singaporean.