Marina Bay Sands offers "a new kind
of public realm" says Moshe Safdie


Movie: in the first in a series of exclusive video interviews, AIA Gold Medal-winner Moshe Safdie talks about his most famous project since Habitat 67 – the gigantic Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore.

Moshe Safdie
Moshe Safdie. Copyright Dezeen

Isareli architect Moshe Safdie, who is now based in Boston, was named the 2015 recipient of the American Institute of Architects' highest accolade, last week.

He will receive the award almost 50 years after his ground-breaking Habitat 67 housing project in Montreal was presented at the 1967 World Expo as a vision for the future of cities, combining high-rise living with urban garden residences.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects

Following the popularity of the scheme, which led to a number of unrealised proposals for similar projects in various countries, Safdie built his firm around a series of public and education projects across North America and in Israel.

Marina Bay Sands – with its triple-tower centrepiece, topped by a sky garden that cantilevers out 65 metres from the side – was the 76-year-old architect's first major project in Asia, and put his firm "on the map" in the region when it opened in 2011.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects

Its success has led to a number of major projects across Asia, including the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore –a glass dome with a giant waterfall at its centre that aims to "reinvent what airports are all about" by introducing shared public space.

He is now revisiting some of the principles of Habitat 67 with the pyramid shaped housing towers of the Golden Dream Bay development in Qinhuangdao, China.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects

His "extrovert" design for the Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore offered an alternative approach to planning in Asian cities, he explains in the movie.

"I guess we won all the points in design because were responded to what we were very sympathetic to, making a building that is extrovert and connected to the city around it," he says.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects
Photograph by Frank Pinckers

Safdie was speaking to Dezeen at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore earlier this year, where he used his closing keynote speech to call for a "reorientation" of the way cities are designed, saying that the vogue for skyscrapers and the privatisation of public space is creating cities that are "not worthy of our civilisation".

The 845,000 square metre Marina Sands complex – which also includes retail and museum buildings – is an example of how privately-funded architecture can be used to create a new type of public space, according to the architect.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects

"It's all about rethinking and proposing a new kind of public realm, which is counter to the predominant typology of a cluster of towers sitting over a mall, turning it's back to the rest of the city – that's the dominant development type in Asian cities today," he says.

Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore by Safdie Architects

Photography is by Timothy Hursley unless specified otherwise.

  • Michael Swanson

    I still think Marina Bay Sands is a hoax, like the Moon landing.

    • jimbolic

      I don’t know if you’re serious or joking with this comment, but it’s real. I’ve been to Singapore three times, the first time I actually walked through it and looked at it from the middle area walking out and looking down at the curve of its design. It really is something great.

  • Jim peterman

    Such a cool piece of space. Singapore is so much ahead of the U.S. I guess we had our time in the sun.

    • Inigo

      This perception that this means that Singapore is ahead of the US is misguided. Aside from Las Vegas, development in the US commercial and residential sector is less driven by inexperienced developers creating superfluous sculptural buildings.

      • Do you know what else is superfluous? Calatrava’s $4 billion NYC metro station, which is ironically a copy of the Lyon railway station which opened 1994. USA is decades behind, deal with it!

      • vdax

        Yeah I agree. F*ck the idea of spending your waking life in an interesting environment that provides adults and children alike with wonderment and inspires their minds to think beyond the banal status quo of what something could be.

        And anyways, why should we leave anything spectacular behind for our future generations to marvel at? It’s not like we hold great historical buildings up to any regard that tourists regularly go visit them every day. Really, what are you even doing here on this site?!

        Also, Marina Bay Sands makes money by the truckload every second of every day and this was not an “inexperienced decision” on their part in any sense whatsoever.

  • miesha istre

    Interesting piece.