Moshe Safdie on Marina Bay Sands

What was the intent of the design?

We were asked to design 800,000 square meters of hotels, convention centers, shopping, museum, theater, and casino on a landfill site in Singapore, located across the bay from the Central Business District, and completing a pedestrian trail that circumnavigates the Marina Bay. 

Marina Bay Sands is really more than a project – it’s a microcosm of a city and it was important to root it in Singapore’s history, culture and contemporary life.  Based on this understanding, I approached the design of this district with the same commitment to an ethical framework, and with the same social aspirations that guide all of our firm’s work.  The first consideration was how to create an urban structure that would realize this complex program, take all the different parts and weave them together into a thriving urban place—not the generic, urban mall that we see all around, but a place that has the vitality that we associate with great cities, both historic and contemporary. 

Inspiration for the design?

Great cities have always had a clear hierarchy of urban place – Greek and Roman cities were organized about the Cardo Maximus and Decomanus, the monumental axes; and Chinese cities likewise, were structured around classical constructs of the courtyard and the wall. The street, which has always held an important function as the principal urban space of a city, together with the agora, piazza, galleria and courtyard, ordered the city— gave it a sense of orientation and location and were the focus of civic life.

For Marina Bay Sands I explored a variation on this concept.  It is organized about a pair of principal axes – a slightly curved north/south promenade/grand arcade traverses the entire complex, crossed by two east/west public spines. This new type of urban place integrates the Waterfront Promenade with the grand, multi-leveled retail arcade, combining civic space, shopping, indoor and outdoor spaces endowed with city skyline views, daylight and plant life, and providing an abundance and variety of activities.  We created our own Cardo Maximus that connects to the subway and to other transportation.  It is a place that is vibrant and dynamic, a place that transforms from hour to hour, from day to night.


The principal challenge was to reconcile the issue of the mega scale with the human scale. I wanted to create a vibrant public space, which meant that we had to weave together various components–the waterfront promenade, multi-level retail arcade, network of public paths–to seamlessly integrate within the scale of the resort as a whole.

Materials?  Why?

As the largest amount of heat gain occurs on the structure’s west façade, it was important to develop a solution to maintain energy efficiency without limiting views of downtown Singapore from the hotel towers.  We used a custom double-glazed unitized curtain wall, with glass fins installed perpendicular to the façade for shading.  The east façade handles heat differently—deep planted terraces create microclimate cooling and naturally shade the rooms from direct sun. 

How green is the project?

Marina Bay Sands’ design encompasses a variety of green features, including the shading strategies described above, and extensive gardens and green spaces, such as the 2.5 acre SkyPark, planted with up to 16 species of trees and plants.  One unique green feature is the roof of the ArtScience museum, which is designed to harvest rainwater and channel it down through the center of the structure to the reflecting pond at the lowest level of the building. The rainwater is then recycled and redirected for use in the museum’s bathrooms, as part of Singapore’s Green Mark program.

How does the design impact the customer experience?

Marina Bay Sands provides an entirely new urban experience. Its organization around two principal axes gives the complex a sense of orientation, placing emphasis on the pedestrian and civic life in the context of a mega scale structure that includes a variety of uses – convention, museum, theaters, casino, promenade, hotel, and tourism. It has the sense of all the rituals of urban activities. A series of layered gardens provide ample green space throughout Marina Bay Sands, extending the tropical garden landscape from Marina City Park towards the Bayfront. The landscape network reinforces urban connections with the resort’s surroundings, and every level of the district has green space that is accessible to the public.

The success of Marina Bay Sands is owed, in large part, to its completely seamless integration of elements. None of the components work well as independent silos, but together they create a complex microcosm of a city that serves as a vital public meeting place. Each element adds something to the experience of the resort as a whole.

How is the project sited to take advantage of what’s around it?

With each design, I think about the purpose of the space and how it is going to be used and function in the long-term. Given the location of the property, I chose to separate the hotel into three towers in order to maintain a visual line to the sea. In the case of the SkyPark, originally I had positioned it to be symmetrical on top of the hotel towers.  Then I started playing with it, and shifted the SkyPark over a bit to make it asymmetrical and more dynamic.  We consulted with a Feng Shui master because it was important to the people of Singapore that the consultation be a part of the process—they said the symmetry was bad Feng Shui and agreed with our decision to make it asymmetrical. When it was placed over the top of the separate towers, it connected them as a cohesive unit, creating what is now a symbolic gateway to Singapore. 

What were the client’s desires in terms of design?

The Sands Corporation is known for creating fully integrated resorts that address a diverse set of luxury and entertainment needs. For Marina Bay Sands, they wanted an architect who would take into account Singapore’s forward thinking approach to building and city living. For me, there is always a deep sense of connection between the environment, context, and building structure. They chose me because my buildings reflect this design philosophy.

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