Dreaming of Another World

Text by Eugene Tan

With 2012's Gardens by the Bay, Singapore's history of geographical simulation is extended. From fiery hell to ancient China, Corbusian modernity to Thai floating markets, these spatial reproductions were not always national or profit-driven initiatives. This understanding moves these six spaces away from questions of authenticity or theme-parking, and calls us to consider, for ourselves, their respective values within Singapore's limited territory and short history.

Inaccurate reconstruction

In the years following Singapore's independence, we began to see plans for spaces of leisure to compliment new industry and housing estates. These leisure spaces reveal a certain anxiety or insecurity about the 'as found' Singapore. Landscapes were manicured, villages were expunged, but our own culturally significant (and soon to be historical) spaces ignored. Nowhere is Singapore's desire to provide an experience beyond the 'as found' more evident than at Tiger Balm Garden. Opened in 1937 as a type of ground-up public garden and already artistic in its own right, it was the tourism board in taking over the property which dressed up many of the displays and rebranded the park.

Predating the Urban Redevelopment Authority's conservation programme which has successfully reinvigorated Singapore's historical districts such as Dempsey and Duxton, most of these spaces attempted to replicate foreign environments rather than tapping into Singapore's own cultural heritage.

Although they are by no means accurate representations of Singapore and its larger development, these simulated spaces form a curious backdrop in the nation-building period where Singapore took on a variety of monikers such as Instant Asia, Virtual City, and Disneyland with the Death Penalty.


Tang Dynasty City

Touted as Singapore's own Universal Studios, Tang Dynasty City was intended to be a 'movie town' where films would be produced, as well as a theme park for the whole family. Merging the cultural and commercial domains in a single vision, its stakeholders intended for the project to transform Jurong and kick-start Singapore's film industry.


Chinese and Japanese Gardens

Once proudly hailed as symbols of Singapore's ability to produce and evolve towards 'Instant Asia', these manicured parks set on artificial islets were fashioned from a swampy stretch of the Jurong River.


Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Garden)

Part-religious monument, part-folk art, and part-public garden, the scenes and icons depicted were from both our world and the next. The focus of the Garden, however, shifted from education to profit when STB took control in 1988. This was not only represented in the implementation of entry fees, but also in the renaming of the park to Haw Par Villa Dragon World where the Ten Courts of Hell display was transformed into a flume ride within a dragon's body.


Asian Village

Located next to Sentosa's entrance, the Asian Village was intended to reflect Singapore's position as a gateway to Asia and depicted the traditional architecture, lifestyles, cuisines, and cultures of ten different Asian countries.


Gardens by the Bay

Located on reclaimed land in Singapore’s new downtown at Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay provides a unique leisure destination for local and international visitors. The project is an integral part of Singapore’s “City in a Garden” vision, designed to raise the profile of the city globally whilst showcasing the best of horticulture and garden artistry. Inside the Gardens, the Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world, and the Cloud Forest plays host to the world's tallest indoor waterfall.


East Coast Park

The East Coast is not just a sleepy coastal residential estate, but also the urban incubator of modern Singapore. What is today the 'City in a Garden' came about from meticulous architectural experimentation, social reorganisation, and bioengineering conducted along the 15 km stretch of sandy bays.