Venues for art and culture help to identify the civic core of a city. As spaces that render local traditions visible, they often become a nexus for the regional and the international. Despite Singapore’s rapid transformation into an international metropolis, its city center lacked an anchor for the arts, and in 1989 the government established an Advisory Council to explore the creation of such an endorsing landmark. Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay opened in 2002 and today embodies the civic heart of downtown, an element projecting the creative energy of the performing arts in Singapore.
Two rounded envelopes over the primary performance venues provide the dominating legible form. These are lightweight, curved space frames fitted with triangulated glass and a system of champagne-coloured sunshades that offer an optimised tradeoff between solar shading and panoramic outward views. The result provides filtered natural light and a dramatic transformation of shadow and texture throughout the day; at night the forms glow back onto the city as lanterns by the bay. The project’s Y-shaped composition addresses adjacent civic spaces at the heart of downtown Singapore — the Padang green, old City Hall and High Court on the main axis, as well as the Marina Square development and the public waterfront promenade encircling Marina Bay.
As a major civic centre, the project explores the continuity of public and performance space. Its programme is planned to engage both those actively seeking the arts as well as the casual visitor, with a variety of formal and informal visual art display areas distributed throughout the site. Two primary performance venues, a 2000-seat theatre and 1800-seat concert hall, are supplemented with two smaller 250-seat experimental theatres and a popular 450-seat outdoor theatre on the waterfront. The main entrance foyer is designed to host a large sculptural display and space for free music performances; this lobby connects visitors with ground floor retail, the interior event spaces, a library specializing in the arts, and to rooftop landscapes that offer panoramic views of the city.
Designed in collaboration with Michael Wilford & Partners, UK.
Winning design for an international design competition.