His idea floats beautifully, time after time

SINGAPORE - In 2004, the army's then-chief engineer officer Teo Jing Siong was asked to find a new venue for the National Day Parade (NDP), in place of the National Stadium which had to be torn down for the Singapore Sports Hub.

When he suggested staging the parade over water, some civil servants thought he was crazy.

"The idea could have been killed off anytime... They were worried if performers will be sea-sick, whether the structure will float or be washed away by a storm," said Brigadier-General (NS) Teo. As flimsy as the idea might have seemed then, the floating platform, formally known as The Float@Marina Bay, has become a permanent feature on Singapore's skyline, and the local social and sporting calendar since it hosted its first NDP in 2007.

The bayside venue has since become the official Aug 9 "party central". It has also hosted 200 events, from the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) opening and closing ceremonies to the F1 Singapore Grand Prix.

Today, NDP spectators and performers will bid farewell for now to the floating platform, as the parade will move to the Padang for next year's Golden Jubilee celebrations and most likely the Sports Hub the year after.

Back then, BG (NS) Teo and his team could have opted for Jalan Besar Stadium, the Turf Club at Kranji or the field in Marina South, where the Gardens by the Bay now sits. But an idea hit BG (NS) Teo when he was driving up Benjamin Sheares Bridge, which overlooked Marina Bay. "We thought if we could put a few barges on the bay and have performances there, we could involve a lot more people in the celebrations."

While there were detractors, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was then defence minister, and former defence chief Ng Yat Chung gave the go-ahead.

The militarymen teamed up with urban planners and sports administrators from the then-Singapore Sports Council. Defence engineers and Sembcorp Marine's shipbuilders hunkered down to design and build the platform within two years.They had to ensure the platform, the size of a 120m by 83m rugby field, would not wobble or vibrate under the weight of 7,000 people or 200 tonnes.

Besides being an engineering feat, the bayside platform has also changed the look and feel of NDP.

Drawing inspiration from shows in France, Austria and Tokyo's DisneySea theme park, organisers used the water body to erect water screens and create sea displays with speed boats from the navy and police coast guard.The army engineers' creativity won praise from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said the 2007 NDP was "a better show, better place" and that there was "better involvement of the audience all around the stage".

Subsequent organisers also put a new spin on parade favourites, by having the presidential 21-gun salute over water for instance.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was so impressed with the location that he asked that the F1 track run near the platform.

To Mr Oon Jin Teik, head of the then-Singapore Sports Council, the floating platform also helped Singapore win the rights to host the inaugural YOG in 2010. "(The International Olympic Committee has) not seen anything like ours, (staged) over water, surrounded by city skyscrapers and Marina Bay scenery."

Dick Lee, 57, the NDP creative director for this year, said he did not have to rely on a flashy stage to wow spectators, given the glittering skyline in the background.

He said: "The skyline is a stunning visual that showcases the Singapore so well and that alone will move people."

Veteran parade announcer William Xavier, who will be perched at the top of the seating gallery for his 10th NDP today, said he gets the best view when fighter jets whizz past overhead or assault boats skim across the bay.

While the floating platform takes a hiatus for the next few years, parade goers like Richard Lim, 46, hope it will resurface as one of the regular NDP venues.

The accounts manager said: "The bay is the best place to enjoy the fireworks. You don't only get to celebrate with people in the seating gallery but also feel the atmosphere with thousands across the bay, offices and hotels."


This article was first published on August 9, 2014.
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