This show was one of my favorites because it combines all the elements that tend to make the best episodes of Build It Bigger. For starters it′s a large and complicated piece of Architecture, designed by a world-renowned and really talented architect, whose work I deeply respect. It′s located in a far-off and exotic place (which gives me the chance to see a country I′ve never visited). And finally, it′s the kind of project that isn′t simply the largest or tallest of its kind, but rather a real, complicated attempt to rethink an existing building type—in this case the typical Vegas-style hotel and casino, and to do so through a foreign lens—in this case, a Singaporean one.
The project is complex, it′s bold, it′s tall, it′s beautiful, and it′s culturally loaded. Singapore is a country that most of us remember as being the strict enforcer of its laws and regulations. For me at least, when I started reading about the project, I couldn′t help thinking about the incident that happened maybe 15 or so years ago when some American kid convicted of vandalism was sentenced to caning. Quite literally he was hit across the butt with a stick. Needless to say it seemed (from an American perspective) like an intense response to the crime. Singapore′s attitude toward youthful misbehavior seemed over-the-top puritanical; its moral and social codes seemed stiflingly strict. So you can imagine that I was surprised to learn, when we began researching the project, that the cornerstone of Singapore′s new, multi-billion dollar downtown redevelopment project was a casino.
This is a country in which littering is punished by a fine, and "insensitive behavior" (whatever that means) is also considered a legal infraction, and yet, stunningly, they had turned to the godfather of Las Vegas Casino Development, Sheldon Edelstein (the guy who built, among many other projects, the Venetian, the Palazzo, and the Venetian Macao) to help reinvent the image of the country.
Edelstein teamed up with another somewhat unlikely collaborator: the famed Architect Moshe Safdie. Safdie has done a number of absolutely incredible and evocative projects; perhaps the most notable was the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. He has a very visceral and clear way of finding a singular formal solution to a complicated Architectural challenge. And when I saw his design for the Marina Bay Towers, Singapore′s 1st ever casino, I understood why he was selected.
The idea of three leaning 650-foot-tall towers all supporting what is essentially a bridge that spans atop the three hotel towers is amazing. But what really blew me away just how different this was from every cheesy (Excalibur) and hip (The Wynn) hotel I′d ever visited in Vegas. This really was a situation where and an Architect and an owner (with the prodding of a government) we′re trying to conceive how a casino/mega-resort might function in a place like Singapore. Taking into account he vastly different cultural and social differences between a place like Vegas and a place like Singapore. And the result turned out to be something that was, for me, altogether surprising.
Here′s why: In a typical casino you can′t get 5 feet from the reception desk without either hearing the cacophony of slot machines or (if you′re me) getting seduced into sitting down at a blackjack table. But in Singapore, it′s entirely different. Instead of the Vegas model, where you plop a huge attraction down in front of the hotel (a huge Pyramid, a faux Eifel Tower, a massive water show, the Ponte Veccio, or a roller coaster) in order to lure in unsuspecting prospective gamblers, here in Singapore, the entire development is the attraction.
It′s not a typical hotel wrapped in a wallpaper facade of Egypt, Paris, or Venice; instead it′s a real, legitimate, formally complex, structurally bold set of buildings. And the crown jewel of the entire endeavor isn′t located out front (like a neon sign on steroids); instead it′s lofted 650 feet in the air. The Sky Park, as they′re calling it, is pool, park, restaurant, nightclub, observation deck, and party space all wrapped into one enormous, bridge-like cantilever (and at 217 feet, it′s the longest cantilever in the world).
Imagine swimming to the edge of a 700-foot long infinity pool whose vertical glass face takes you to a precipitous 650-foot drop. It′s kinda gross. The view from that space will be one of the best in the entire country (and you be able to have it without clothes on—always a bonus). And instead of its being a VIP lounge that only hipsters and fancy-pants-types are permitted to visit (as often seems to be the case in Vegas), this space will become a public amenity. A vertical urban park hoisted atop three towers that′s open to the public. Free and open to the public. So beyond even the crazy construction process, the very fact that a casino resort might be organized in such a way really excited the production team and me.