A New Babylon: The Singapore Gardens by the Bay

by Stanley Collyer

All photos by Olha Romaniuk

In 2006, Singapore staged a competition for a new park on the bay spanning 250 acres. At the edge of the city’s downtown, it was intended to become Singapore’s premier urban outdoor recreation space and a national icon. In essence, what the client was looking for was a botanical garden with an element of adventure added to the mix.

The competition attracted more than 70 entries from 170 firms.

The initial shortlisted firms were:

  • Ah’bé Landscape Architects (USA)
  • Alsop Design Ltd (UK)
  • EDAW Australia Pty Ltd (Australia)
  • Field Operations (USA) in collaboration with Foster & Partners (UK)
  • Grant Associates (UK) in collaboration with Atelier One (UK), Land Design Studios (UK), and Wilkinson Eyre Architects (UK)
  • Gustafson Porter Ltd (UK)
  • Office For Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) (The Netherlands)
  • Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop (Japan)
  • Sasaki Associates, Inc. (USA)
  • WIN Landscape Planning & Design Pte Ltd (Japan)


From these Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter were eventually awarded the master plan design for the Bay South and Bay East Gardens respectively. The first phase of the Bay East Gardens opened to the public in October 2011. Featured were a series of leaf-shaped gardens, each with its own specific landscaping design. Wind and water have been introduced into the site to provide a cooling effect.


The largest of the three Gardens, Bay South Garden, opened to the public in June 2012. Due to the inclusion of some significant structural objects, Grant Associates brought Wilkinson Eyre and structural engineers, Atelier 10, onto their team. The result has been nothing less than sensational. The team enhanced the garden experience with “Supertrees,” 25 to 50 meters in height, as well as two conservatory buildings. The Supertrees provide shade in the day and come alive with a display of light and sound at night. In addition, over 160 plants comprising more than 200 species adorn many of the Supertrees at the top of the canopy. To top it all off, one can enjoy the surrounding view from a café atop the highest Supertree.


There will always be speculation as to the origin of some designs. Could it be that Marks Barfield’s design for the 2010 English pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo owed something to the Supertrees design?

Since the Gardens are being developed in phases, one wonders if there are more surprises like this around the corner. If so, this could well be this decades answer to the Bilbao effect, except that here the subject is a park setting If we use the sculpture park as a point of departure, this has taken the idea of a public garden to a whole new level.




Olha Romaniuk, who received her M Arch degree from the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Art, Architecture, and Planning, and a former intern with COMPETITIONS, is presently with Gallagher and Associates’ office in Singapore.