When it comes to first world countries, or cities that consider themselves to be more in line with the thinking of first world societies, public art and recreation centers are often considered to be of great importance to the aesthetic beauty and soul of a city, as well as of importance to the general happiness of its society. Then you get certain cities that take this approach to a whole new level, creating spaces that not only provide luring meeting places for locals and tourists alike, but that which also provides a level of awe and wonder. Singapore has done this extremely well by creating the Supertree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay – what can only be described as an Avatar/Star Trek/Elysium inspired utopian garden.
Wishing to be considered a leading city in which to live and work, Singapore’s National Parks launched a global design competition in 2006 that sought to find two phenomenally creative designs for the South and East Bay initiatives. It was an extremely progressive idea on the part of Singapore understanding the manner in which both society should be / and was moving in – that societies should strive for the ideal and should not sacrifice art, design and beauty within its public spaces in favour of social upliftment – they recognised that public art was a necessary part of social upliftment. Its a debate that many in South Africa would feel strongly about – in the face of mass inequalities, should we be spending on ensuring our cities are beautiful? Overwhelming research suggests that while poverty leads to an increase in criminal activities, a city that provides a beautiful environment in which to live, and has art installations that are free to view by the public, will have remarkably happier communities. This is something Johannesburg would do well to learn from Singapore, New York, London, Madrid and yes, even Cape Town. But I digress. So after two firms were awarded the contracts, the initiatives broke ground in 2007 (yes, Singapore is extremely efficient), and within a few short years, the massive gardens and Supertree structures were completed and the park was open to the public.
So what are the Supertrees? Well, the city really wanted to develop a series of vertical gardens (space being at a premium in Singapore, as with everything, up is the direction you need to head in), and with limited space, the vertical gardens needed to incorporate solutions to not only providing a manner for vertical planting, but that which would also attract people to view the gardens. In addition, to be considered an leading environmentally-responsible city, the structures also needed to incorporate environmentally sustainable functions. So, some very clever minds came up with creating the Supertree Grove – 18 super structures ranging from 25 – 50 meters in height that would facilitate for surfaces on to which over 162 000 plants (representing 200 different species) could grow. More than this, these structures are also fitted with photovoltaic cells (a process that converts solar radiation into direct electrical current), as well cooled conservatories and will serve as air exhaust receptacles. In short, über big, über impressive, über futuristic and über green. #totesübs
Now, Singapore, being tropical and rather close to the equator is extremely hot and humid – and this is only exacerbated when one ventures into a sprawling garden during the day. It is therefore highly advisable that should you wish to go to see the Supertree Grove that you instead go in the evening – besides the light show is only available during the evenings – for obvious reasons. So, make your way down to the lawns, find a comfortable spot, and settle in for a 30 minute of so audio/visual show that will certainly delight – and if the show doesn’t delight you, then the fact that this is free certainly will, especially after spending a few days in a city that is blindingly expensive.
Its an experience that will certainly get you thinking. Singapore, remember, is not really considered to be a true electoral democracy, and is instead considered a hybrid state that has both authoritarian and democratic elements. Having said this, it has got so much right in terms of providing a thriving economy and wonderful living space for local and expats that call this place home. Many western states can learn a thing or two from the east in terms of the fine balance between providing and respecting the rights of the individual, but also knowing that a society that places individual rights at its pinnacle is facing a daunting task in achieving those things that would add to the greater good which in turn makes for a lot more happier individuals. Singapore, in my view, has got this right, and the Supertree Grove is just one more example of how a City/State government should take the lead and provide structures and spaces that, through their design, form and function, adds to the overall happiness of its people.