Orchard Road past and present

Ion Sky is located on level 56 of Ion Orchard and features not only a multimedia animation display of the history of Orchard Road, but also a 360-degree view of the area.
Ion Sky is located on level 56 of Ion Orchard and features not only a multimedia animation display of the history of Orchard Road, but also a 360-degree view of the area.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

From Monday, visitors to Ion Sky can get a visual treat of the shopping belt

Ask anyone what he knows of Orchard Road and the answers are likely to be a combination of the bright lights, busy streets and glitzy high-fashion shop windows.

But few Singaporeans will remember a time when Orchard Road looked different from its current cosmopolitan facade. The stretch filled with high-rise buildings and a spectrum of stores today once had nutmeg farms, spice gardens and fruit orchards - which became the inspiration for the shopping belt's iconic name.

These important snippets of history are what shopping centre Ion Orchard is hoping to bring to Singaporeans and tourists with its newly revamped Ion Sky experience, an 11-minute multimedia animation display that will be shown at Ion Sky, Orchard Road's tallest observation deck on level 56 of the Ion development, starting on Monday.

Created in collaboration with singer-songwriter and Cultural Medallion recipient Dick Lee and his creative team, the animation is designed to tell the story of how Orchard Road and Singapore went from village to settlement to the bustling metropolis it is today.

Orchard Turn Developments' chief executive officer Chris Chong said of the mall's new offering: "At 218m above ground level, the location offers a fantastic 360-degree vantage point of Orchard Road and its surrounding neighbourhoods and, therefore, is well placed to show how the area evolved from its humble beginnings to the energetic shopping destination it now is."

For visitors, the journey begins on level 4, where huge screens in the lift show whimsical and dreamy images of nutmeg seeds growing amid wispy clouds in a blue sky.

Once they arrive at Ion Sky, the animation is shown on screens all around the observation deck before the blinds rise to reveal a panoramic view.

For Lee, the chance to work on the Ion Sky project was particularly fun given his interest in history and culture.

"My team did a lot of research for this - going back to what the area must have looked like decades ago and thinking about important points to highlight to tell an informative and cohesive story," he said.

The team faced some challenges when coming up with the animation and deciding how to project it - such as dealing with the large space at the observation deck and figuring out how to map and hang the projectors to ensure that everyone was able to get the same experience, no matter where he was standing.

In the end, their hard work paid off. Mr Chong said: "We had interest from foreign collaborators to create this project, but I'm glad we worked with Dick for this. This animation has been entirely produced and made in Singapore, which is even more symbolic given it shows how Singapore has grown and evolved."

The newly revamped Ion Sky is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board's Experience Step-up Fund. To experience the new Ion Sky, members of Ion Sky need to spend $20 (up to four same-day receipts) to redeem an admission ticket. Signing up for membership is free and can be done via the Ion mobile app or at the concierge desks.

Shows are screened every 45 minutes, with seven daily shows to choose from between 2 and 5pm and 7 and 7.45pm, which is the last admission of the day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Orchard Road past and present'. Print Edition | Subscribe