Marina Bay Sands and the Development of the Megabuilding

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 - Architecture

In case you missed it (as I did), Singapore recently built one of the most bizarre and impressive buildings ever made. It’s a resort complex called Marina Bay Sands, and it’s sheer size makes for a variety of attractions that defy easy numeration. “The resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000 square foot convention-exhibition centre, the 800,000 square foot  mall, an iconic ArtScience museum, two large theatres, seven “celebrity chef” restaurants, two floating Crystal Pavilions, an ice skating rink, and the world’s largest atrium casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines.”

But, as odd as it might seem to say, all of that is fairly standard for the modern day megabuilding. What is not standard, by any stretch of the imagination, is the Marina Bay Sands sky park, a massive boat-shaped building that sits on top of the three main skyscrapers, improbably cantilevered out into space. To give you a decent sense of the size of this structure, it’s roughly the size of the Eiffel Tower laying on its side, or the equivalent of 4.5 jumbo jets lined up nose to tail. It features a huge infinity pool that looks out onto the Singapore skyline, unofficially claiming the title of “most terrifying way to relax.”

I honestly am not sure how to relay the grandeur of this building, so in desperation I’m just going to read you some more: “A canal runs through the length of the Shoppes, in the same style as the Venetian in Las Vegas. Sampan rides on the canal are available for guests and shoppers at the shopping mall, similar to the gondola rides available in the Venetian. Also housed within the Shoppes are the six of the seven Celebrity Chef Restaurants – Cut (by Wolfgang Puck), Waku Ghin (by Tetsuya Wakuda), Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza (by Mario Batali), Guy Savoy (by Guy Savoy), DB Bistro Moderne (by Daniel Boulud), and Santi (by Santi Santamaria).

Two notable attractions of the resort are the two Crystal Pavilions. Despite a brief legal dispute in June 2011, it has been decided that one of the Pavilions will house two internationally-renowned nightclubs – Avalon and Pangaea. In addition, the second Pavilion will house the world’s largest Louis Vuitton boutique, in addition to being on a floating island, at 20,000 square feet, which will be connected to the portion of the boutique in the Shoppes via an underwater tunnel.”

Alright, let’s review. A canal runs through the shopping center? Seven celebrity restaurants? An underwater tunnel?! This is clearly a pretty spectacular complex. But to be honest, as shockingly huge as it is, I’m actually pretty intrigued by what it stands for. It would be easy to attack such a project for representing capitalist overconsumption and material waste, and it is obviously extravagant and targeted for a wealthy minority, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair critique. Because what seems so offensive at first glance is its enormous size, but this might just be a function of a changing urban environment.

This isn’t the first megabuilding or complex we’ve seen, at least in concept. Dubai is currently resuming plans for the construction of Dubailand, a massive theme park complex twice the size of Walt Disney World; a more theoretical proposal has for a while suggested that Japan build a massive pyramid structure in Tokyo bay; and a proposal we featured early would construct a colossal urban farm in the heart of New York City. Admittedly some of these are still just ideas on paper, and utopian or fantastical building ideas have been around for decades, but what sets these apart is two things: we’re rapidly developing the engineering capacity to actually build these buildings, and due to a number of global factors, there might actually be enough incentive to do so.

There continues to be a worldwide immigration into cities, and housing the growing population can be a serious challenge. One of the only solutions, outside of increasing public transportation to suburbs, is to build up. The area of the city proper is a fixed quantity, but it’s volume has ample room for increase. By creating massive living structures within urban environments, we can house far more people in the same area than ever before. Now this might not seem like a particularly appealing prospect, but there’s another reason for doing this. As I’ve talked about before, dense urban living is actually one of the most sustainable ways to live. There are problems we will have to deal with (and are already facing), like disposal of that much concentrated waste, and sufficient production of food, but the fact is that the green cities of the future will almost certainly incorporate these megabuildings. They’ll have to if they want to house their untold millions in a sustainable way.

While it would be wonderful if we could stop the rush to cities and live in a more decentralized, environmentally-friendly fashion, consuming less and growing more, I think that’s a naive vision, at least for the world as a whole. People want things, and lots of them, and cities provide the best opportunities for fulfilling that ambition. While it’s certainly a good thing to try to reduce people’s wants and to encourage frugal living, I think the environmental developments that are going to save us (if any) are going to be the ones that let people continue to do what they do, but with less impact. The electric car is going to take some getting used to, and it’s seen a lot of push back, but at the end of the day it allows people to drive all they want with a greatly diminished effect on the environment. Similarly, megabuildings might seem frightening at first, but they just might become a necessary part of our urban future.

Source: Wikipedia, MarinaBaySands.com.

Johnston Architects



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