SINGAPORE - While the Singapore River is often recognised as a symbol of Singapore's transformation from Third World to First, embodying both its past and present, few realise how Singapore's recent waterfront housing developments similarly celebrate its past, while providing comfort and luxury to current residents.
Few would dispute that the Caribbean at Keppel Bay is one of Singapore's well-known luxurious waterfront residences. Few would, however, know that it was designed around the historical dry docks of the former Keppel Harbour, which are over a hundred years old and are retained as water elements in the development.
As every apartment building is designed right at the water's edge, "the waterfront is literally brought to the residents' doorsteps", according to Laurence Liew from DCA Architects Pte Ltd, who pointed out that the design was carefully realised to enable all residents to appreciate the outdoor waterfront and at the same time enjoy privacy through innovative design strategy with levels and landscape.
In designing Reflections by Keppel Bay, architect Daniel Libeskind said in a press release by Keppel that he wanted to convey the fact that "Singapore is a paradigm of harmony of culture, nature and the built environment", while "highlighting the spectacular beauty of the setting".
Indeed, amid the hues of blue, the theme of green living also plays a significant role in many waterfront projects.
According to Bernard Tay, senior associate at DP Architects, being adjacent to a water body typically means there is a thriving biological community nearby. As such, waterfront designs must weigh both the positive and negative effects that the development may impose on the existing flora and fauna and vice versa.
For instance, in the development of H2O Residences (by City Development Ltd), a condominium facing Punggol Reservoir in the Sengkang and Punggol area, Mr Tay said the "lush bio-diversity and mangrove trees in the vicinity provided a source of inspiration for the design and the aesthetic qualities", thus the "protection and awareness (of such bio-diversity) became the central theme for the landscaped environment".
These efforts to integrate natural and built environments have won such waterfront developments various awards for their eco-friendliness and environmental sustainability: H2O Residences has attained the Building Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Platinum award, while Punggol Waterway was recently awarded the prestigious Grand Prize for Excellence in Environmental Engineering for environmental sustainability by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE).
The element of water does not simply serve to integrate various aspects of nature, but also serves to connect people across time and space.
According to Team Design Architects Pte Ltd, the main architectural design consideration behind The Sail@Marina Bay, the tallest residential building in Singapore, was to reflect Singapore's past as a major port of call for cargo ships travelling from the West to the Pacific and vice-versa.
Recently, however, it has taken on a new significance with the conversion of the Marina Bay area to a boating sports venue for events such as Powerboat racing. The two towers forming the sails and the podium representing the hull thus signify Singapore's past and present.
Over in the South of Singapore, efforts have also been made to forge a sense of history with new developments. In his speech at the opening of the 4.2 km Punggol Waterway, which has been touted as the "Venice of Punggol", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the "Kelong Bridge", a foot bridge across the Waterway, was built in recognition of Punggol's heritage as a fishing village.
For the public housing units, Mr Lee said each estate will not simply be a set or blocks of flats or precincts, but a "home for Singaporeans, a community of residents, a place where friendships are made and memories are formed".
Indeed, residents living near Punggol Waterway would be able to meet fellow residents through water activities such as kayaking and wakeboarding, while structures such as the Punggol promenade serve as communal spaces that facilitate the interaction of people.
With the Caribbean at Keppel Bay fully sold out, and 90 per cent of the 950 launched units at Reflections at Keppel Bay sold as of end-June 2012, it seems that the fascination of Singaporeans with waterfront housing is unlikely to ebb soon.
Tan Chee Yong, associate director at DP Architects, said Singaporeans are attracted to waterfront living as it is viewed as a lifestyle that provides an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and work stress.
He added that water has a therapeutic effect as people tend to feel more relaxed in an environment with water. More practically, homes near water bodies tend to be more comfortable in Singapore's tropical climate as water has a cooling effect on the ambient temperature.
There may be other cultural factors at play too. For instance, it is deemed auspicious to have water in front of one's house to enable one to prosper, amass wealth and be successful, said feng shui master Lim Eng Cheong from Chang Consultancy, "as water symbolises wealth and prosperity".
He said that in land-scarce Singapore, where space is valuable, waterfront housing will almost guarantee an unobstructed view, which is generally a good configuration in feng shui.
Mr Libeskind said in a documentary entitled "Reflections on the Waterfront" that he was inspired by the ancient Chinese idea of "incorporating the landscape far beyond what one has as part of one's own sense of being". His ambition was to raise the idea of a residential community with a cultural resonance.
In the same documentary, Mr Libeskind noted that "waterfronts around the world have become a new theme. People are rediscovering that water is the source of life, not the backwoods of a city".
Indeed, Singapore has continually strived to break new ground in its developments, be it in designing a new Punggol Watertown or turning the Marina Barrage into a lifestyle attraction.
However, it is equally important that its past be remembered, for, as the ancient Chinese saying goes, one should remember the spring while taking a drink. The tensions between preserving its heritage and environment, and forging ahead with modern development will become more acute as Singapore progresses.
Still, as recent waterfront developments have shown, there is much potential for such water spaces to provide citizens with a sense of history, as well as opportunities to interact with fellow citizens and get in touch with nature amid the local urban landscape.