Close to Gardens by the Bay and across from Downtown MRT station is one of Marina Bay's largest public landscaped areas.
Step into the core of the Marina One development and one enters a thick growth of plants.
The wooded landscape, resembling a green valley nestled at the bottom of four tall buildings, provides a sanctuary for shoppers, office workers and residents. Marina One is a mixed-use development with offices, shops, restaurants and apartments. Built on a site that was part of a landmark pact between Singapore and Malaysia, it was officially opened earlier this month.
Incorporating greenery into architecture is not new in Singapore. But plants are typically placed close to or on exterior walls, where they serve as decor. Marina One puts the garden on the inside, where it hopes to lure anyone in need of a break.
The largest, most varied plot is on the ground level, with smaller plots going up to the penthouses, at levels 33 and 34. At higher floors, say the fourth, which is still publicly accessible (the other upper levels are not), verdant, curvy tiers that look like rice terraces appear.
Wherever one goes in this multi-storey garden, there is bound to be a spot with a view. A wooden ramp allows one to see the taller shrubs and trees from a higher angle. There is a three-storey waterfall, cooling the air and adding to the rainforest atmosphere. Nearby, there is a reflecting pool.
Close to 400 plant species are in here, including trees, which are rarely seen in an indoor setting. Almost everything green here lives in the shadows of the development's four buildings. While that allows for more pleasant walks, it also makes for a botanical challenge. Plants here must tolerate shade well.
Mr Christoph Ingenhoven, head of Ingenhoven Architects, the site's main architect, says its proposal was to bind four plots of land in Marina Bay into one, rather than develop them separately.
Speaking to The Straits Times on the telephone from his office in Dusseldorf, Germany, he says the "concept was to join them and then unify them with a common centre... with something physically and visually powerful".
His firm specialises in sustainable design that seeks to reduce resource consumption.
"Unifying the plots creates a much bigger space on the inside and that gives you the chance to do something very big," he says.
That "something big" is the Green Heart, a garden with two benefits. Its scale gives the development a character no other structure in the area has, while providing residents, workers and passers-by a respite from the construction works occurring over the next two decades in the Marina Bay district.
The green plot also serves a civic purpose. It is an outdoor public plaza, a rarity in a city that has retreated into the air-conditioned indoors because of the heat.
Marina One and Duo, in the Ophir-Rochor area, are the result of a pact between Singapore and Malaysia in 2010, following the resolution of the debate over railway land owned by Malaysia in Singapore. M+S, a joint-venture firm by Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and Singapore's Temasek Holdings, developed Marina One and Duo.
Ms Kemmy Tan, chief executive of M+S, says "having a park-like experience while being in the heart of Singapore's CBD" will be a key factor in global brands taking up space in Marina One and people buying apartments in Marina One Residences.
One design element of Marina One is the curved levels. Top-down photographs of them have excited designers and writers, who are comparing them to rice terraces of the sort seen in the Philippines and other parts of Asia.
But there is a twist to these terraces because of the louvres on the inner edges, which shield people inside from the sun. The louvres also accentuate non-symmetrical curves on the inside of the buildings, giving the whole entity a handmade, organic look.
Mr Ingenhoven says the louvres are meant to make the Green Heart more pleasant for people. "Plants love the sun. People love shade."
He thinks the rice terraces and the louvres have a fundamental tension - one maximises sun exposure, the other reduces it - but both take a deliberately technical approach to the issue of sun management.
All elements were meticulously considered and planned for the "natural-looking" Green Heart.
"It's engineered. Soil, sun, shadow, tree height are considered," he says.
He adds that it is early days yet for the Green Heart because the plants are still young and have yet to achieve rainforest lushness.
"It took a lot of work to make it look like it does today. But in 20 years, it will come closer to what we had in mind. It's still a baby."
386 species of plants in the Green Heart
The Green Heart is a 3,700 sq m garden, designed to resemble a rainforest valley, in the middle of Marina One. Situated in Marina Bay, the mixed property development has offices, apartments, shops and other lifestyle amenities.
The Green Heart serves as an oasis for office workers and shoppers. There are 386 species of plants, including trees, shrubs, ferns, palms and bamboo, as well as climbing and trailing plants.
What is special about the Green Heart is that all of it is basically a roof garden, says its designer, British-born landscape architect Henry Steed, who has lived and worked in Singapore for more than 30 years.
Below the soil of the garden is the ceiling of a basement carpark.
Mr Steed is director of ICN Design International. His firm is the local partner of London-based landscape architecture practice Gustafson Porter + Bowman, the lead designer appointed to design green spaces in Marina One. Both are co-consultants on the project.
He adds that although the soil bodies are not deep - about 1.2m - they are generous enough to allow good plant growth as the roots of tropical plants do not go deep, but spread sideways.
There is also an irrigation system, which is activated only in dry weather and is monitored by rain sensors, which inform the central controls when water is needed, he adds.
Here is what he has to say about the plants in the Green Heart:
Amesiodendron chinense, sometimes called the Chenille tree or Xi Zi LongWhere: Near the pool This rainforest tree has a well-rounded crown of light green leaves. When new leaves appear, they are bright red, fading to pink, giving the impression that the tree is in flower. Amesiodendron needs good light, so it has been planted in the central and open zone of the green heart, which is one of the sunniest areas at the site.
Saraca thaipingensis, called the Yellow Saraca, Gapis Golak and Gapis BatangWhere: Near the pool This tree naturally belongs beside a freshwater pool or stream, which is why it is placed by the pool. This is a relatively common tree in Singapore, with a wide rounded crown of dark green glossy leaves arising from a sturdy dark brown and often twisted trunk.
Agathis borneensis, also called Borneo Kauri Pine, Dammar MinyakWhere: Central part of the Green Heart This coniferous tree, which can grow up to 50m, has dark-green, glossy leathery pointed leaves. It has not been widely used in Singapore's urban landscape, though it has been grown indoors at Gardens by the Bay and outdoors in Shenton Way.
The aim is to see these trees with their tall, slender and straight trunks rising up to Level 4, adding to the three-dimensional woodland nature of the Green Heart.
Angiopteris evecta, a tree fern from the family Marratiaceae, native to tropical Australia and South East Asia, often called the Elephant Fern, Paku Gajah and Turnip FernWhere: Underneath the shade of roofs or overhanging tree canopies This tropical forest plant is interesting because of its natural place in the understory of forests, giving the Green Heart a simulated, forest-like appearance. It has a short bulbous stem resembling a turnip, from which tall fronds emerge, reaching a height of 2m and arching over other plants for a circumference of almost 3m. It is also a host plant to some moth species, which adds to the biodiversity value.
Etlingera elatior, commonly known as Torch Ginger and Bunga Kantan Where: Near the ramp that rises to Level 2 Torch Gingers commonly grow at forest edges and along streams in large colonies, with their huge stems and dark green glossy leaves often rising to 5m in height. The flowers are sometimes eaten - cooked or raw in salads. The plant also has medical uses.
Art is all around Marina One
Artists from Malaysia and Singapore were commissioned to design and create art for Marina One. The pieces can be viewed in public access areas such as lobbies, walkways and the Sky Garden on Level 4.
PLANES & CURRENTS
Artist: Grace Tan (Malaysia) Where: Level 3 lobbies These wave-like objects, suspended from the ceiling, are inspired by biology. The shapes suggest natural growth and dynamism.
Artist: Sand T Kalloch (Malaysia) Where: Level 1 City Room curved walls (public area leading to Green Heart) An installation covering 70m and placed on two curved walls, the work symbolises the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, speaking of how varying elements can become a harmonious whole.
Artist: Sun Yu-Li (Singapore) Where: Level 1 Green Heart The sculpture takes its shape from the feng shui concept of a "barrel of wealth". It serves as the centrepiece of the Green Heart.
KNOWLEDGE TREE, SHOAL DANCE
Artist: Edwin Cheong (Singapore) Where: Level 4 Sky Garden Knowledge Tree is a 10m-tall kinetic sculpture made of titanium and stainless steel, with mirror-finish "leaves" that are inspired by natural plants.
Shoal Dance stretches 9m along the mist pools and captures the energy of a school of fish.