Now it’s a surfboard

Who hacked off one end of the sky park? That’s the question that many people I know ask on seeing the nearly-completed Marina Bay Sands. As did I.

I had assumed it was symmetrical in design. Certainly the three tower blocks are arranged symmetrically, and the eye is thus led to expect that they would be topped off in a similar balanced way as well. The early pictures of the model seemed to suggest too that the sky park would be cantilevered out at both ends. Look at the shadowing in this 2006 rendering from Marina Bay Sands, for example:

But look closely again and you realise that it was truncated even then; the shadow was just exaggerated.

A google search came up with more pictures of the initial design, and it ‘s quite evident that it was never intended to be symmetrical. Look at this other artist’s impression:

Fine, so there was no mistake in the construction, but the thing still looks very odd. The question then becomes: Who approved this design?

Another question is: Was there a particular reason why it couldn’t equally stick out on the other side? I don’t know actually, but perhaps it had to do with the property boundary. On the ‘cut-off’ side, the hotel tower is adjacent to a side road called Sheares Link; perhaps it was not possible to build over it  even if the skypark would be something like fifty floors above and cause no obstruction to traffic. Perhaps it was just a legal question.

While it looks odd, it’s not actually ugly. You could say it gives the entire complex a rakish flourish, though others might argue that with the rest of the complex so staid looking, the rakishness looks contrived. We shall see whether with time it grows on us.

To the eyes of those who don’t live here, it might never have a chance to grow in affection. First impressions count a lot more – that Singaporeans have possibly the worst aesthetic sense in the world. This building may indeed become famous as our city planners hope, but for the wrong reason!

As for me, my first impression, after being staggered a little, was that the sky park, with its pointed end and blunt end, looks  like a giant surfboard beached atop the towers or held aloft by three men (with waves lapping at their feet?). But at the same time, I now understand too why some fengshui practitioners disliked the design back in 2006, saying it looked like a knife which would bring bad luck to Singapore.

Bad luck has certainly dogged Marina Bay Sands. First it struggled with ballooning construction costs, especially arising from a shortage of sand, which may have contributed to the delay in opening. Instead of being the first casino here to open, it lost its lead to Resorts World Sentosa.

Then, perhaps as a result of a desperate rush to complete some hotel rooms and the convention centre for a pre-booked conference of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association, it ended up with all sorts of mechanical and electrical breakdowns when it hosted the event. Instances of water leakage into hotel rooms of some delegates, intermittent power failure, sound system problems and incidents where some guests were locked within their rooms were among the complaints. The lawyers are now suing Marina Bay Sands, which has also countersued, I believe for non-payment.

Who says Singapore is good at getting things right?

9 Responses to “Now it’s a surfboard”

  1. 1 Roy 13 June 2010 at 23:29

    I agree, its kind of ugly and not the sort of design that gets an instant wow, its really quite heavy looking. I remember being perplexed when the Sands was chosen, I was so much in awe of another proposal, I can’t remember which, but the design involved lots of pods floating in an atrium.

    I think the authorities just chose the one that had the highest asset value (ie justified by the most bricks and mortar) as opposed to one that had a high investment value but a large part of it was in the “software” which is difficult to value. We are not there yet when it comes to paying top dollar for ideas, we just want lots of physical asset.

    I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but when I went to Sentosa, I could see where the money went, but I was not impressed at all, for several billion dollars, it certainly didn’t look or feel like a world class facility.

  2. 2 anony 14 June 2010 at 08:44

    It looks like a boomerang stuck for good on a building top!

  3. 3 ST 14 June 2010 at 12:16

    Once you tell yourself that it’s the bow and stern of a ship, it won’t be so strange anymore

  4. 4 beAr 14 June 2010 at 13:56

    i don’t think the original design is truncated. and the shadow in the second image was most likely not exaggerated as it was probably the result of computer modelling, rather than photoshopping (i.e. it would have been a “real-time” shadow that was captured).

    my guess for the truncation is that the building had to be shifted to accommodate additional services not planned for in the original brief; hence they had to truncate the sky park in order for it to not exceed the building line.

    The third image could have well been a rendering of the modified sky park, and not of the “original” design. it is impossible to know since there is no time-stamp on the image, unlike the first one.

    i also don’t think the design is ugly. it’s high time that singaporeans get exposed to unique architecture, instead of the staid grey and beige boxes we usually get here.

  5. 5 Mike 16 June 2010 at 17:16

    I thought the final product does not do justice to the artist rendering. Has something gone wrong from conception to realization?The artist rendering shows a more elegant structure. But the final built structure, gawd, it is just BULK. It may be unique but it is not a structure that excites me at all.

  6. 6 beAr 17 June 2010 at 15:46

    don’t forget artist renderings are done to entice the client; the renderer, together with the architect, will pick the best angle possible to showcase the building. that said, it is a fallacy to think that artist renderings come out of nowhere. they are still based on the same plans and elevations that the contractor uses to build the building

    if you can get to the same angle at which the rendering was done, you will possibly get a similar view as the rendering. the thing is that these “bird’s eye views” are only to be seen by birds.

  7. 7 quzy 18 June 2010 at 00:26

    The detail of a “truncated” sky park is – in my opinion – a sign of an architect who is sensitive to urban context. In fact the entire design is probably more interesting in the context of the bay than by itself. This is in contrast to the works of today’s starchitects who, competing in a world of images and publications, are inclined to create high-impact objects that look good when standing alone (preferably as sculptures on pedestal).

    In the context of Marina Bay, Sands is at the edge of the skyline. The dramatic cantilever at the north acts as a fine ending to the skyline, whereas the other southern side relates to the more regular building form that would be built in the future.

    If the cantilever was to be replicated at the southern side, it would look good now. But when future buildings come in farther south, the gesture of the cantilever thrusting into buildings would create an aggressive skyline, Fengshui or not.

    Further evidence of urban sensitivity can be seen from the form of the towers. The towers curve up and over the bay vertically, and on plan, they curve around the bay. It is a design that knows its place in the bay’s context, and enhances it by amplifying the embracing and surrounding effect. When Marina Bay is completed with more buildings between Sands and MBFC, the sensation of the bay being a well-defined urban space, like public squares in European cities, would be better felt.

    Anyway, the hypothesis of design error due to boundary line can be thrown out, because for projects of this scale, the boundary is known by all parties long in advance.

    As for all the symbolism and imagery, we will always see familiar things everywhere, like in the story of the blind men and the elephant.

  8. 8 yawningbread 18 June 2010 at 00:55

    Thanks, that was very enlightening! Indeed, it makes sense now.

  9. 9 beAr 22 June 2010 at 15:24


    “Anyway, the hypothesis of design error due to boundary line can be thrown out, because for projects of this scale, the boundary is known by all parties long in advance.”

    and that’s why i didn’t say that the architect made an error w.r.t. the location of the boundary line. i said that it is possible that the building had to be shifted because additional services had to be introduced that necessitated the shifting of the building, with the result that the skypark had to be truncated; i.e. NOT an error in design.

    your response, though well-argued, does not take into consideration the fact that the earliest impressions do indeed show that the sky-park was not truncated. although it is entirely possible that the architect did have those considerations in mind, and changed the design mid-way.

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