SINGAPORE - The cranes have come down, the protective hoarding rolled away and the plastic covers taken off the red-and-white seats.
Anticipation has never been more palpable in the Kallang Basin.
Next weekend, the new $1.33-billion Singapore Sports Hub opens its doors for the grand reveal - almost 13 years after the idea of rebuilding the National Stadium was first mooted.
Singaporeans, who have been watching the futuristic dome take shape, will get to see the hub in its full glory at the Rugby World Club 10s next Saturday. This is a lead-up to the official opening of the hub next year.
It has been a marathon for the project's architects and designers, but the finish line is in sight.
Already, the Sports Hub has garnered rave reviews, picking up a Future Projects (Leisure-led Development) award at last year's World Architecture Festival, considered the Oscars of the architecture world.
But it has not been all bouquets. The project was hit repeatedly by delays due to rising costs and financing constraints caused by the 2008 economic crisis.
Originally, construction was to have begun in 2007 when the stadium officially closed. The groundbreaking ceremony was eventually held in 2010.
But even after work finally started, its completion date was pushed back. Earlier this year, the media reported that it would open in stages from April. But next weekend's rugby games will be the first sporting event at the hub.
Little wonder, then, that those in the main companies behind the Sports Hub - international engineering firm Arup Associates, home-grown architecture stalwarts DP Architects and the hub's landscapers Aecom - say erecting Singapore's new landmark is no mean feat.
35ha is not that big
In land-scarce Singapore, the 35ha set aside for the hub might seem like a huge space.
The old national stadium, on its own, took up about 5ha. But it was a finger-cracking exercise fitting in numerous elements. There is an aquatic centre, a multi-purpose sports hall, a skate park and fitness corners and a 41,000 sq m mall with an integrated leisure waterpark and offices.
Then there is the piece de resistance: the new National Stadium.
DP Architects' senior director Teoh Hai Pin, 55, says the task was a challenging one because there were no reference points.
"We knew we were dealing with a hub, not just building a stadium. The project needed to really complement a compact and usable hub. It was difficult because we had to really study how to make the facilities work in this space."
In comparison, the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park in London, a sporting complex built for the 2012 Summer Olympics, is about 226ha while the Olympic Green in Beijing, which includes the iconic Bird's Nest Stadium, sits on a 1,100ha plot.
Mr Clive Lewis, 43, associate director at Arup Associates, who is now involved in the design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium, says: "One major constraint was the boundaries of the site. You have water on one side, the Nicoll Highway, the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway underground and the existing indoor stadium to pull together.
"The dome had to be the hub while allowing other things to plug into it. It was a huge bit of effort to make that successful."
At the same time, the architects wanted to meld the iconic design of the existing 12,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium, which opened in 1989 and was designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, with the new additions.
While on a media tour on Wednesday morning, Mr Lewis points out the cone tent-like structure, saying: "It's a classic piece of sports architecture from the 1980s, and we wanted to respect that with the form of the dome. So the dome and the roof of the indoor stadium were important to the skyline form that we wanted to create.
"Also, it has a highly reflective metallic roof, neutral quality of concrete... a language that we wanted to transfer into our sports buildings and arenas, and integrate a unique, green landscape at the same time."
An all day, 24/7 space
The architects promise that there will not be a white elephant syndrome - a problem which plagues big, iconic projects, in particular sports ones, which are built for singular events.
Take, for example, the sports stadiums in South Africa. Built mainly for the 2010 World Cup, they remain largely unused and struggle to bring in the crowds the stadiums saw when the football tournament was staged that year.
Which is why, says Mr Oon Jin Teik, chief operating officer at Singapore Sports Hub, the architects employed a "clustering" model for the site.
He says of the 55,000-seat stadium, which has a moving configuration to accommodate different types of sports: "This wasn't a project designed for a major game, unlike the World Cup stadium. The business model for this sports hub was studied carefully and extensively. Stand-alone prospects are in the past."
Depending on the sport played, a serapid lifter will lower the two-concourse platform and seats down to ground level. An air skate will move the sliding tier inwards to meet the setting needed and conceals the seats which were previously moved. The mechanisms here are similar to the one used in Stade de France in Paris.
In football or rugby mode, there can be 54,100 seats, 54,600 for athletics games and 51,000 for cricket games.
And there are not just games to watch. It will be a field day for sports and fitness enthusiasts as there are so many areas in the hub to use. Beach volleyball courts, which are available to book, are set against the Marina Bay backdrop, while joggers can do an 880m lap around the dome or catch the breeze along a 750m promenade, called the Stadium Riverside Walk.
Those who need a spot of retail therapy can head to the Kallang Wave Mall, which has 41,000 sq m of restaurant and retail outlets such as Swedish fashion house H&M, Japanese label Uniqlo and Australia's Harvey Norman which will sell a wide range of fitness and health products.
Supermarket FairPrice Xtra will have a sports-themed shop offering organic produce, while Foodfare will have 17 stalls selling healthy food.
Those going to the stadium will have ample parking at the multi-storey carpark in the vicinity, while those who stay in the neighbourhood have access to the area via a pedestrian overhead bridge. It cuts across the major Nicoll Highway and Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway, and is sheltered.
Mr Jonathan Rose, 49, architect and practice leader with Aecom's master planning team, says: "It's an icon, yes, but not so much an object. On the big urban level, it's connected to the city beyond just one big event."
Mr Teoh adds: "Because of the compact nature of the site, it can't be a sterile space."
Green is king
It would have been easy to turn the hulking dome into a giant air-conditioned bubble, but the architects were adamant that the Sports Hub be sustainable - even if Singapore' tropical climate was a challenge, says Mr Lewis.
Mr Lewis, who led the design for the National Stadium, OCBC Aquatics Centre and the two OCBC Arenas, adds: "When you're here, you're easily walking 0.5km or even 1km around here. You have to make it well-connected in this climate. That's why there's the introduction of landscape to give shade.
"Early parts of the design also referenced Olympiastadion in Munich... the idea of canopy roofs, spreading over and protecting people, and using the land under these canopies and then it evolves into a singular form."
Other green features include the ultra-thin, retractable dome which spans 310m - now the largest dome in the world, overthrowing the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas, which measures 275m in diameter - and is designed to use less energy than that of a fully enclosed stadium.
The dome's covered design also allows for sporting events to be held all year round.
Pointing out the Stadium Roar, the main entrance of the dome which opens up to the city skyline, Mr Rose says: "We forget a few things about the old stadium, like how we couldn't see out of it, across the rooftops. And when it rained, cascades of water would come down... it was a nightmare. The dome now makes it secure for all events - a massively improved experience."
But it is not all out with the old. Parts of the timber benches from the old stadium were initially experimented with to be placed on the facade. But as upkeep would be expensive, the plan was shelved.
Instead, these benches have become art installations and the wood used to deck out some parts of the interior in the museum and library. The museum has a 2,200 sq m exhibition area, while the library has a massive 80,000 book collection for a varied audience.
For those who are still concerned about feeling hot in their seats, an energy-efficient cooling system will deliver air cooled down to 23 deg C, through an air-handling unit which will pipe it to each seat.
And there are 2,721 giant solar panels installed across a 3,300 sq m area. About 610MWh of energy will be generated annually - enough to offset the energy used by the bowl's cooling system.
Expect it to be a green walk, too, with 200,000 shrubs and 1,300 trees planted around the Sports Hub. Large, existing trees more than 40m from the original site were retained and incorporated into the masterplan and landscape.
There is also an Arena Park for visitors to walk through and it has a 4,000 sq m bioswale, which will remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. This water will then be pumped back into the drainage system. The landscape is expected to grow within the next six months to a year.
With the architectural giant ready for action, perhaps the biggest question for die-hard sports fans is: Which is the best seat in the house?
Each of the architects has his own take.
Without hesitation, Mr Lewis says: "Middle tier, front row in the north zone. Not that any rows are going to have the worst view, but there's the perception of the closest experience, with the most elevation over the pitch."
Mr Teoh says it depends on the event. For example, if it is a performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, he says, "you will want to be right up front".
To be fair, Mr Lewis adds diplomatically: "I think it depends on the different concepts and how they're set up. I think everyone will have the best seat in the house."
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Soon-to-be-opened Sports Hub not only boasts plenty of sporting facilities but a retail mall too. -ST