Gardens by the Bay is a large waterside park next to the Marina Reservoir in central Singapore. It features two huge glass houses designed by London architects Wilkinson Eyre, which won World Building of the Year at World Architecture Festival in 2012.
"The project was to develop two cooled conservatories to accommodate a really extraordinary collection of plants that would never be able to grow in Singapore without an artificial environment," Baker explains.
One of the glass domes features a dry Mediterranean climate, while the other recreates the cold, moist environment of a cloud forest. Baker says that while they had to meet very strict requirements for the atmosphere inside the domes, there was very little brief for how they should look.
"The trick we explored was to get a really simple structure, a grid shell, as light as possible and stiffened by a series of ribs that stabilised the grid," he explains. "That allowed us to have this totally clean internal view and externally it generated quite a strong form to both of the biomes."
He continues: "One was pulled up to allow for a mountain to sit inside, the other was stretched out to allow for a flower field. The flower field being in the Mediterranean, the mountain being in the cloud forrest."
A wooden canopy runs between the two freestanding domes. Baker explains that the design team wanted this to contrast with the steel and glass of the conservatories.
"The canopy is all about wood: it's got a lot of colour in it; it's got a lot of play in it," he says. "It's also deliberately quite dark so that the drama of entering the conservatories is amplified by the darker compressive space outside."
Baker explains that the conservatories were designed to provide very different experiences.
"There is no set path," he says of the flower dome. "It is your own adventure. It is all about you making your own route and understanding and exploring the building."
In contrast, the cloud forest, which includes a 35-metre-high indoor waterfall, is "an entirely prescriptive route," he says.
"As you enter, again you're coming from a more compressed, darker environment and then you're completely assaulted by the cold, the wet of the waterfall. You explore the base of the mountain and then take a lift to the top. That then allows you to do the descent in a really creative way."
He continues: "We have a series of walkways that take you right out into the cloud forest with a whole range of different plants. At all the levels you get a different horticultural experience."
Baker says that he takes the greatest satisfaction from seeing people enjoying the conservatories.
"This building has got a pretty strong educational remit," he says. "It's got nice messages [about protecting the environment], but it's also an awful lot about fun."
"The more travelled you are, the more complacent you get about those sorts of experiences. But being from Singapore, being very much in an urban society, I think the real drama of a strong - although artificial - environment is quite exciting."
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