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Singapore swing

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Singapore is looking to the future with its go-ahead policies on transport and a whole-city attitude to masterplanning

While the UK has spent 10 years debating whether Crossrail is a good idea, and five years pontificating over Heathrow's Terminal 5, Singapore is getting on with planning for the future.At the turn of the millennium, Singapore's capital is already looking forward to 2051 and beyond. Even a cursory glance at the holistic level of ambition and infrastructural spending is startling for those of us used to the piecemeal approach of local authorities in the UK. Singapore is looking to the future with joyous expectation, not miserablist caution.

One of the most impressive developments is taking place in the Marina South area, situated on the southern promontory off the central business district, which has been formed by reclaiming land from the sea. This reclamation was completed in 1995 and the model (pictured above) highlights the city's plans for its future. (The overall city model is approximately 250m 2in size and features a six minute son et lumiere show). The blue buildings are the schemes scheduled for construction in 50 years from now.

Planning throughout Singapore is driven by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), a powerful organisation which makes executive decisions on all development proposals. The country and city have been zoned within the strategic development plan for the island, and proposals for transportation, land use, school building and economic activity are built into this structured, long-term construction programme. Parcels of land are tendered within this framework document and the first to be put out to expressions of interest is Singapore's Downtown area at Marina Boulevard.

Tenders must comply with the overall transport and land use proposal for the island.

Interestingly, as the AJ's 'Tall Storeys' conference gets ready to examine our love/hate relationship with high-rise construction, the URA development plan states that, 'around the Marina Bay MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Station [developments] will be up to 30 storeys and above in height'.

To facilitate the next phase of expansion in the Marina Bay area, the existing eight-lane expressway is being relocated to ensure 'better land parcellation and a more optimal use of land'. Co-ordination is such that even service utilities are to be laid in roadway combined service ducts. To alleviate transport pressures, a new coastal expressway is being created, in conjunction with feeder routes linked to major car parking areas at transportation hubs. Undoubtedly lessons have been learnt from some of the more chaotic examples in the UK; integrating the full range of mobility options, including the car, is high on the city planning agenda.

Due to high humidity, the transitions between different types of transport, from walking to cars to public transport, have been well considered.

Emerging from spacious, hi-tech underground stations there is a seamless transition to air-conditioned pedestrian thoroughfares weaving in and out of the central district of the city. The goal of integration between home and office, leisure and retail has been drawn up in partnership with the private sector, with the pedestrian given priority in the urban core.

When the URA says that it wants 'an efficient and gracious twenty-first century city, integrating efficient transportation, quality infrastructure and beautiful environment', it is not spouting rhetoric - it has every intention of delivering. In its 1997 planning report, for example, the URA states that one of its aims is 'to reinforce the garden city image'. To this end, they have visited, researched and incorporated the best practices from Europe and have adapted them to suit local conditions. The plans build in 'green necklaces' of parkland - as 'green connectors' for a pleasant pedestrian environment. They have also taken care to accommodate a range of cultural and leisure facilities, as well as the more visible expressions of corporate dynamism.

The Marina Bay area is now, literally, preparing the ground for a massive expansion of its underground rail links, running into the proposed urban district and integrating a complex web of existing lines. The current tranche of infrastructural improvements, comprising six major station projects on the Marina Line, should start this year and be completed in 2005. Such is the speed of change and development that the next tranche of works will overlap, causing a few headaches for those involved. The total cost will be approximately £1.5 billion.

One of the practices involved is UKbased JSA Architecture, which has been commissioned to design four of the six new stations.

One of these, the Convention Centre Station, currently out to tender, is to be built under the main road adjacent to the Raffles Hotel and the War Memorial Park. To minimise disruption the overall length of the 'box' (the underground structure) was shortened, although the scale is still impressive (150m x 25m). It is designed on three levels: the lowest level is the main Marina Line; the next level is dedicated to the future extension of the MRT Arts Line; and basement level one is the level, as John Smith of JSA Architects says, that 'relates to the wider city'.

In an exciting and novel integration of transport and the environment, the architect intends that the corner of the War Memorial Park, an area of approximately 4,500m 2, will be lowered at an angle into the main public level station concourse. Grass, shrubs and even the trees will be relocated onto this sloping site, spilling directly into the internal (and underground) basement level one. This fully landscaped ramp, in conjunction with the concourse architecture and the newly created pedestrian routes, will 'be a tool to knit together bits of the city'.After all, Smith says: 'This is not about integrated transport per se, but about linking public space; it is about integrating transport into the public realm.'

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