14 June 2010

Rain on a Strange Roof – The Singapore Skyline Casino Caper

Marina Bay Sands by anyone’s standards deserves a double take.  Take One. OK, you may think, that’s three pretty big towers with a great enormous boat thingy on the top.  Take Two.  A what on the top? A swimming pool, that's what!

It may not be a boat or a thingy, but this new feature of Singapore’s skyline is unusual to say the very least. The Marina Bay Sands comprises of three hotel towers, each of which is a towering 55 stories.  The three towers are connected by a sky terrace positioned precipitously on their roofs. A hectare in area (that is ten thousand square meters) this surprising addition is called Sands SkyPark.

The whole incredible structure is what the Singaporeans describe as an integrated resort.  What that basically means is that it is one great big Casino – gambling has only been legal in the country for five years since it was outlawed in 1826.  Marina Bay Sands (should we just call it MBS from now on? Perhaps not – Megabits Per Second, Medal For Bravery and Methodist Boys School among others) was designed by Moshe Safdie.

The 72 year old architect and urban designer does not do things by halves.  The whole resort measures six million square feet and the cost of the development is estimated to be somewhere in the S$8 billion – that is over $5.5 billion of your US dollars. As such, as well as being quite a challenge to build, the whole construction project is the most expensive integrated resort property which has ever been built.

What really seems to draw the eye, though, is the sky terrace.  It is the home to the longest elevated swimming pool in the world, and has a 475 foot vanishing edge which just sounds scary, to be frank.  At 650 feet above the ground swimmers might be forgiven for being a little nervous putting a toe in the water. There are even palm trees on the roof, poised picturesquely around the pool. You may have noticed them already.

Here is something even scarier for the nervous swimmer, however.  There are four movement joints beneath them.  They are vital when it comes to helping the 400,000 pounds of stainless steel which make up the pools withstand the motion of the towers.  The range of motion is almost twenty inches, which means that the pool should be able to withstand quite a sharp wind.

The hotel towers come with their own amazing statistics.  They hold 2,500 suites and rooms and come together with an Art-Science museum and a convention center (more of which in a little while).  All told the resort will be able to hold 45,000 people when it is working at full capacity.  Yet there is a rain falling on the strange roof of Singapore’s casino caper.

Ah, yes. There is the rub, you see.  In order to be able to generate the forecast $1 billion annual profit, the place has to be ready.  Marina Bay Sands was supposed to open in 2009 but eventually opened at the end of April this year.  The first conference was held there in May but some of the facilities were not finished and there was a power failure during an important speech.

At night the place looks amazing, with a helix bridge that can be used to reach it. However, it did not impress the first corporate customer. The conference organiser held back payment and was sued by the complex which was then counter sued by the organiser.  Words of a certain heat and texture have been exchanged.  It was, after all, quite a large bill (S$300,000).

The second phase opening is due to happen before the end of June 2010.  Hopefully the theater will be ready to host Disney’s The Lion King when it opens in October.  Or perhaps they can hold it on the SkyPark, with Simba held aloft to view the whole of Singapore beneath him.   The museum of arts and sciences is due to open by Christmas.

It can only be hoped that, ultimately, Marina Bay Sands will be a belated triumph, not least for the estimated ten thousand jobs that will rely on its success.