November 14, 2023
SINGAPORE – A new “experiential” attraction at Gardens by the Bay is on the cards and will allow visitors to experience Kingfisher Wetlands – a 1.5ha sector of the gardens filled with mangrove plants – “in a different way”.
If all goes to plan and it gets the nod from the authorities, the attraction will be ready in about three years, and could incorporate augmented and virtual reality elements, the gardens’ chief executive Felix Loh said in an interview with The Straits Times in October.
It is part of the gardens’ efforts to diversify its offerings as it moves beyond its first decade of operations. The gardens opened officially in 2012.
Two upcoming installations will give visitors a sense of what to expect at the planned attraction, which will be near Gardens by the Bay MRT station, said Mr Loh.
The first installation, Monet’s Garden, is targeted to open in mid-2024 at the Flower Dome, one of the gardens’ two cool conservatories. This will be an immersive art experience featuring re-creations of French impressionist painter Claude Monet’s works and his gardens in Giverny, France.
At Flower Field Hall within the dome, visitors can “delve into Monet’s world of art through a digital experience, where his iconic and timeless artworks come to life”, said Mr Loh.
A floral display recreating the gardens of Monet’s home in Giverny, which were often the subject of his paintings, will also be set up.
The second installation will be at the Cloud Forest – the other conservatory at the gardens – and will serve as a trial for concepts that may eventually be rolled out at the planned attraction near Kingfisher Wetlands, said Mr Loh.
Since October 2022, the Cloud Forest has been home to the Avatar: The Experience installation, which will end its run on Jan 1.
From February to April, a National Geographic exhibition of “weird but true” organisms will run on the Cloud Forest’s third floor, before a revamp of this exhibition space and the Cloud Forest Gallery begins.
Both spaces will “be transformed into a new immersive and educational journey for visitors” some time after April, while the dome’s Orchid Haven will also be revamped, said Mr Loh.
On the use of immersive experiences in the gardens, he said “plants must not take a back seat”, and that more details about the upcoming attraction will be made public later.
He added that his team is working on the planned attraction near Kingfisher Wetlands, as well as other upgrades and additions to the gardens, for three reasons.
First, Gardens by the Bay has to expand its capacity as visitorship gradually rebounds to the pre-pandemic high of more than 13 million people a year. Bay South Garden, where the two conservatories and other attractions sit, is also “getting quite crowded”, said Mr Loh.
The gardens’ visitorship had been on a steady climb in the late 2010s until Covid-19 struck.
But it has since recovered from the depths of the pandemic. More than 10 million people are expected to visit the gardens in 2023.
Second, the gardens must evolve and innovate constantly to “be relevant to each generation” of Singaporeans as “a people’s garden”, said Mr Loh.
Third, it needs to be financially sustainable.
While the Government disburses significant grants to the gardens yearly to subsidise the cost of operating its outdoor portions that are free to visit, Mr Loh said he hopes the company can eventually be financially independent.
In the 2023 financial year that ended on March 31, the gardens recorded a deficit, before government grants, of $15.4 million, down from a $55.8 million deficit the year before.
Apart from the planned attraction and other upgrades, the 30.38ha Bay East Garden is set to open in 2027.
These aside, Mr Loh said his team of designers always has drawer plans at the ready.
One such plan involves building a third domed conservatory, an idea he said had been “floated around previously by the public”.
Hinting at what a third dome could bring, he said: “Currently, the coldest our dome can go down to is 12 deg C, but if you want to see fall colours… maybe we have to go even colder.”
Another plan is further development of The Meadow, an outdoor event space the size of about three football fields. The open field has a standing capacity of 30,000 people.
While concerts have been held at The Meadow, the event space does not have a permanent stage.
Mr Loh noted that Singapore already has spaces for large-scale concerts, such as the 55,000-seat National Stadium, and smaller venues with a capacity of between 1,000 and 5,000.
A purpose-built venue at Gardens by the Bay, he said, can fill the gap for mid-sized concert spaces.
Among the other possibilities for The Meadow are an underground carpark and an attraction featuring a nocturnal garden that showcases root systems, said Mr Loh.
But for now, the team is focused on completing Bay East Garden, which will be home to the Founders’ Memorial that is set to open in 2027.
“This is my topmost priority. I don’t think I currently have bandwidth to plan for a third dome or execute a third dome… but we’ll see,” he said.
In the meantime, smaller-scale upgrades are planned for areas within Bay South’s Family Zone, which comprises the Active and Silver gardens.
Mr Loh said a new woodland-themed family playground, developed with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, will open in the first quarter of 2025.
In addition, the community garden within the Active Garden will be revamped before the end of 2024 to raise accessibility for volunteer gardeners, who tend to about 50 types of edible plants there.
Barrier-free paths and elevated planting beds will cater to seniors, said Mr Loh, while a shelter will be built for those wishing to continue gardening in bad weather.
An area will also be set aside in the garden for small fruit trees to be planted, along with trellises for climbing edibles.
On the food and beverage front, Mr Loh said Gardens by the Bay is looking to introduce a new eatery at the Active Garden that will serve a horticulture themed menu.
“This may pave the way for future collaboration opportunities, where fresh ingredients could be potentially sourced from Gardens by the Bay for a garden to table concept,” he said.
Such concepts are popular in Nordic countries and will be a way for the gardens to highlight the importance of food sustainability, he added.
A tender seeking an operator for the eatery, which will replace Mylo’s cafe, was called on Nov 6 and will close on Nov 28.
A second renewable energy plant at the gardens is also in the pipeline.
Mr Loh said the organisation and the authorities are discussing where to locate this plant, bearing in mind that its emissions should not affect future Marina South residents.
Instead of incinerating horticultural waste as the gardens’ first renewable energy plant does, Mr Loh said this plant will use gasification, which involves a chemical reaction that turns carbon-based waste into fuel.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee had earlier said the plant could include an educational component that would be open to visitors.
It will contribute to the gardens’ efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, ahead of the national 2050 target.
“Even though we are a small nation… we are committed to being a responsible citizen of the world,” said Mr Loh.