NDP: Goodbye, floating platform, hello, National Stadium?

The Marina Bay floating platform hosted its last National Day Parade this year. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - First built as a temporary stage for the National Day Parade (NDP) in 2007, the Marina Bay floating platform hosted its last parade this year ahead of its transformation into the permanent NS Square.

But before this project is completed in 2026, Singaporeans may see the return of the iconic Kallang Wave to the National Stadium.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen suggested in July that future NDPs could be held there after next year's edition at the Padang.

While the floating platform is a unique venue, said actress and former NDP creative director Beatrice Chia-Richmond, the National Stadium offers a chance for a more intimate show.

When the NDP was held at the new National Stadium in 2016 - the only time it was held there - elements such as the Red Lions parachute jumps and the flying of the state flag close to the parade could not happen for safety reasons.

But the 55,000-strong crowd was treated to giant floating props, indoor fireworks and an illuminated stage that served as a large canvas for spectacular mass displays.

The distance between the performers and audience is shorter and this makes for a better show, said Ms Chia-Richmond, who directed the show segments for NDP 2011 at the floating platform and the 2016 edition at the National Stadium.

However, the Red Lions, along with other aerial, military and naval elements, as well as fireworks - all NDP crowd favourites - may not work as well at the National Stadium, she said.

As for the floating platform, Ms Chia-Richmond said: "I can't think of many venues around the world that offer a floating stage in a beautiful bay with such a wonderful skyline behind it.

"The Marina Bay skyline is already a unique advantage as it provides a gorgeous backdrop to the stage, with a bay for fireworks, a naval defence display and great vantage points for the aerial displays."

But the stage there is a little too far from the audience and any performance can be seen clearly only on huge LED screens, she said.

Veteran musician and director Dick Lee, who has also directed shows at the floating platform and the National Stadium, as well as the Padang, said each of the three venues has a different character and significance.

The floating platform and Padang can each host 25,000 to 27,000 people for the annual bash.

He said: "The floating platform is a spectacular and fitting reminder of Singapore's success, the Padang has historical significance and formal elegance, and the National Stadium has its grandeur and inclusivity."

The Padang was the site of many historical events, including the installation of Mr Yusof Ishak as Singapore's first head of state, and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announcing Singapore's merger with Malaysia in 1963.

But the best NDP venue of all, said Mr Lee, is still the old stadium, which was the site for most NDPs through the 1980s till 2004, before it was shut for renovation in 2007 and later demolished in 2010. It had the space, capacity and ability to accommodate all the NDP requirements, he said.

He added that the Padang - which means "field" in Malay - is the most demanding due to its lack of infrastructure.

Mr Lee said: "The new stadium would probably be the most challenging as its sheer size restricts wish-list programming, and the narrow opening forbids Red Lions' jumps and any view of anything aerial, including the much-loved fireworks."

NDP is essentially made up of two parts - the parade and the show - he explained, and the parade segment adapts easily to each venue, but the full military mobile column is possible only at the Padang.

NDPs at the Padang may also cost more, Mr Lee said, as they must be built from scratch.

There is also the added cost of compensating the food and beverage outlets at the National Gallery, as well as rental of its buildings for administrative use.

The entire field also has to be concretised and the grass replaced after the event.

He said: "That's why the Padang is traditionally used for 'special' years - every five years, as well as significant years like our bicentennial in 2019."

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who helmed one of the first NDPs held at the floating platform in 2009 while in the armed forces, said: "The very story of the floating platform itself - a supposed temporary solution while the National Stadium was being rebuilt - is also the story of how we have turned adversity and a scarcity of choice into something remarkable."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.