Review: Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
This is a difficult review. I am not as enthusiastic about this major park project as all the reviews I can find online. I am very ware that it has been granted all sorts of awards. Please check award accolades here in the UK Telegraph, and again on this award site.
Our visit was in September 2012, not long after this park land had been opened. There are a couple of more park lands to be delivered. When you travel to high spots, such on top of the dome, the new works could be seen and there is no doubt about just how large this whole complex will be one day. When Singapore decides to do something big, it does not hold back.
The new park lands and the two domes are wonders of design and engineering. The teams of designers have delivered big time on the brief. These have been marketed heavily as must-see for tourists and for anyone interested in gardens, horticulture and architectural and landscape design. Many botanical people will embrace the domes given that they are museums of plants from around the world.
Within the park lands there several themed areas. I visited two and then thought that was enough. So then had some lunch and cool drinks at the outside restaurant near the domes. The food and service were very good.
The gardens we visited are very highly designed. Very neat, maybe too neat and very uniform in style. Possibly just a little too predictable. You now see this style internationally in all the over designed open spaces. The Chinese and Indian gardens were artificial and clichéd in their presentation. If you want to see Indian or Chinese gardens in Singapore, believe me, there are many more better and real examples to choose from.
We walked beneath the huge artificial tree towers, but given how hot it was already, we decided to leave them for another day, or possibly return one evening to see the light show.
As you can see from the photographs above, there were very few people around the park lands. This changed as we approached the domes after lunch. There were medium-sized queues of people going into these marvels of engineering.
There are two domes. One is the Cloud Dome which has a high middle, with a huge waterfall. Once you have circled the bottom green walls and experienced the bottom gardens and the waterfall, you take the lift to the top. Here there are a series very high walkways by which you walk down from the top through a maze of different gardens and environments. The whole dome is a miracle of sustainability with environmental controls and biomass that generates some of the power. Along the way there are many information panels about what you are looking at and about environmental and climate change issues.
The Cloud Dome is the more impressive of the two. The artificial atmosphere and the walkways are remarkable. Just before you leave, you pass through the information room, where there was a digital display on the world’s environmental issues. Unfortunately it had seating for only a couple dozen people, so it was not easy to see the show and I suspect many would pass by and not hear the important messages.
A visit to this dome is somewhat recommended, if simply to experience the wonders of the set up and to enjoy the cool; given that it is always hot outside. But be aware, it is busy.
The other dome? The Flower Dome. It is more than just flowers but they do dominate. There are areas of plants on display from many parts of the world – including Australia.
This dome seemed to be far more a botanical garden or plant zoo constructed to be a theme park. Or to be more accurate, a series of indoor theme parks.
When it comes to the many flower beds, they are very interesting but it is all so neat and there is so much of it. Yes you walk, you look, you read a few labels, and take photos and then – well you get exhausted, and then continue to walk, to look and to take photos and..
Yes people were walking as if an a trance, looking and trying to take it all in and wondering how to react. So they took even more photographs. They took photos of each other, and walked on and on.and took yet even more photographs.
The photograph above captures an amusing scene. There was a set of rag and straw dolls situated within this flower bed. It had become a photo stop whereby most people stopped and had their photograph taken while standing in front. We stood above and watched the parade of photographs being taken for about ten minutes (thereby resting ourselves). The stream of people setting up photographs just did not stop.
Most of the floor areas are gardens of different plants and flowers, and lots of people stop to take their special photographic records of the wonders of nature. But when they reach this spot where there is something different, these dolls, they cannot resist the photo-opportunity. It also helps that everyone is having the same reaction in that at last there was something besides plants and flowers. So it seemed that everyone felt comfortable to take their turn to have that special photo taken as their record of the fun visit. They always smile for the camera.
The engineering that controls the roof and the shading is constantly adjusting to the changing conditions outside. This image above shows the blinds coming into play as the afternoon sun had started to bite. This was indeed a very impressive display to watch.
Much of the tourist information says that once you have enjoyed the gardens and the domes, that the casino complex and the gardens by the bay shopping and hotel complex is just a short walk away.
So yes, people are encouraged to leave the air-conditioned safety of these themed domes, and to make their way back to the hotel, shopping and casino complex; where they will be able to enjoy the artificial environments of the super large and expensive shopping halls, complete with indoor canals, or the hotel complete with sky gardens, or of course make their way to the casinos.
The Gardens By The Bay are a very attractive destination for tourists. It is all just a bit too Disneyland for me. It is a big project and it shows that money can certainly purchase was is in vogue as contemporary design. But being super big does not make it at all innovative, or interesting. When you break it down, the whole park land is quite ordinary – big yes, but for me a bit too predictable; it actually gets close to being boring.
The dome constructions themselves are definitely amazing. They have delivered innovative sustainable engineering to provide all manner of environmental benefits for the domes. It is just that the domes are just that, domes as botanical theme parks. The actual Singapore Botanical Gardens are a much more interesting place to visit.
If people want to see nature, I suggest we should all care for what we have and where applicable, go and see it in its natural state. Not be satisfied that the planet will be a better place by visiting these theme parks and feeling better for it. Or in my case, a little on the indifferent side about their value.
A short story to finish. Remembering that there is a lot about environmental issues, particularly in the Cloud Dome. A group of people had come out, bought a drink or two and then sat down (on the few seats). One of their number was wandering about when one of the others asked what she was doing. She said she was looking for the recycling bins but there were none. “So much for caring for the environment”. Her words not mine.
Would I recommend a visit. If you are curious, yes. If you are into all that hard edge fashionable garden design, then why not. If you want to see some great engineering, yes have a look.
Would I suggest a revisit. not really. Unless like me I may want to see how it looks in the evenings.
Is it award-winning design? Yes to see the engineering work on the domes. But with the caveat that the reason for the domes is very superficial.
An award for the park lands? If you like to give awards for a super big example of contemporary landscape work, knowing that is being done in lots of places elsewhere, then over to you. Yes it is big. And it is going to get bigger. There is lots of it. Lots of money was spent. But it is not exciting.
Note: a visit to the park is free, but it is $28 dollars each to get into the domes.
I would however continue to recommend visits to Singapore. There is lots of art; suggest you pick a time to fit in with one of the special biennials.
The streetscapes are just great to wander. Little India, China Town and the Arab quarters are very interesting to wander through. Stay away from little India on Sunday evenings. Get to the botanic gardens and there are other significant parks and spaces to see. Lots of interesting architecture. Travel every where by the MRT (the underground).
Stay away from Orchard Road – it is just big hotels and even bigger super malls.
Eat anywhere and everything – it is all good. Coffee? Try the Dome Cafe, next to SAM – the Singapore Art Museum. Dome is run by the Western Australian firm and the menu is similar. If you have Singapore based friends, get them to take around some of the older suburbs and their main streets, and maybe visit the new housing developments. There’s a lots more to do than simply visit the Gardens By The Bay.
Back to my overall impressions of the whole of the Gardens by The Bay – as a total visit:
Recommendation: Rating 6/10
Paul Costigan, 16th February 2014.