The city-state will welcome its first-ever skyscraper over 300 m in height. Neighbouring Malaysia, having recently topped out the second-tallest structure ever built on Earth, says, “Hold my teh tarik.”
Singapore punches way above its weight class in many categories. But even though its skyline is admittedly attractive, especially the downtown core by the marina, the Lion City hasn’t made many global lists for the height of its buildings.
For perspective, one of Singapore’s most iconic and internationally known buildings is Marina Bay Sands. The trio of 57-floor towers, topped by a showstopper cantilevered ‘SkyPark’ that accounts for much of the building’s global fame, rises to just 194 m.
For years, reports of a 280-m height limit for Singapore buildings has existed, though authorities are – for whatever reason – seemingly reluctant to officially confirm or deny this rule, at least when asked to comment on the newly approved skyscraper, which will handily exceed that restriction. However, the widespread knowledge of the limit, plentiful reports in local media, and the fact that four of Singapore’s current five tallest buildings are all exactly 280 m in height would seem to suggest that the restriction is indeed real.
In 2016, GuocoLand obtained permission to build their tower at a height of up to 290 m. In the end, Guoco Tower topped out at 284 m, making it Singapore’s tallest building, just four metres higher than the four buildings now tied for second place, namely One Raffles Place, United Overseas Bank Plaza One, Republic Plaza, and CapitaSpring.
According to conventional wisdom, the primary reason for Singapore’s height limit is to preclude any problems with air traffic flying in and out from Changi Airport, as well as its one other commercial airport and handful of military air bases. Another popular, if not purely official, reason, is summed up by one Singaporean netizen: “Singapore has always prided itself for doing things that make sense – that is, [which] have a purpose. It has no intention to build anything to show off.”
As cryptic as the building height restriction may or may not be, the reasons for granting permission for this new, 305-m tower are equally opaque. But permission was indeed given, and the Lion City’s tallest building will soon begin taking shape.
According to CNN Asia, Singapore’s new tower, known as 8 Shenton Way, will soar ever so slightly above the current rooftops of the Southeast Asian city-state upon its projected completion 2028, offering offices, a hotel, and 34 floors of luxury residences. And though it will be Singapore’s tallest building at that time, it won’t stand out much amid the skyline, as it will only rise to 305 m, just a bit taller than Guoco Tower, but that will be good enough to make it Singapore first and only “supertall” skyscraper, a term used to describe a building 300 m in height or higher, but under 600 m. (At that point, it’s called “megatall,” and only four such skyscrapers exist on the planet.)
Offering 1.6 million square feet of floor space, the skyscraper has been designed by renowned firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the US architects behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building by far.
Unveiling plans last week, the architectural firm remarked that its design was “inspired by bamboo forests.” Digital renderings show a series of cascading rectangular forms topped with rooftop terraces, which were published by CNN Asia and other outlets. The project will include over 107,000 square feet of elevated green space, with plants chosen specifically to attract birds and butterflies. Impressively, more than half of the site’s landscaped areas will be accessible to the public.
“We want to create places that are comfortable, where people want to be and are healthy,” said SOM design principal Nic Medrano at a press conference Thursday, adding that all occupants will be able to “access nature” within “three or four floors.”
SOM also said that 8 Shenton Way will be among Asia’s “most sustainable” skyscrapers. Quite amazingly, the 305-m (1,001-ft) tower will, once completed and in operation, consume 55% less energy than what would required to achieve the local government’s highest sustainability rating. That is an impressive achievement indeed!
According to reports, SOM design partner Mustafa Abadan explained that energy savings will be realised through several approaches, including a façade made from terracotta, reinforced bamboo, and heat-efficient glass. Horizontal and vertical fins, meanwhile, running along the tower’s exterior will deflect sunlight, helping to keep the skyscraper cool in Singapore’s tropical, urban heat.
Furthermore, the tower will be connected to the city’s district cooling system, an underground network of pipes that pump chilled water into buildings’ air-conditioning units to help reduce overall demand for cooling.
Also getting some attention is where the new skyscraper will be located and how that’s planned to unfold. SOM explained that 8 Shenton Way will be constructed on a site that’s currently occupied by the cylindrical AXA Tower, which opened in 1986. Demolition work on this structure has already begun, but that’s the attention-getting part. According to plans, the new skyscraper will actually reuse part of the existing foundation — an innovative approach that Medrano said would “save material… and lower the carbon footprint of the building from the get-go.”
It’s an impressive design and will be a fine addition to an attractive, efficient, and well-planned urban environment. But when it comes to sheer spectacle, nothing in Southeast Asia comes even close to the heights achieved by Malaysia’s latest “Look at me, look at me!” effort, the RM5 billion Merdeka 118, which is the second-tallest structure of any kind ever built on Earth, reaching an eye-popping 678.9 m, or 2,227 ft, in height, a feat that’s pretty impressive even when you account for the fact that the spire comprises 170 m of that total height. (The roof is actually at 508.9 m, a still-inspiring height that exceeds that of KL’s iconic 451.9-m Petronas Towers.)
And yes, Merdeka 118 is indeed one of the world’s only four “megatall” buildings, joining the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Shanghai Tower, and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca.
To its credit, Merdeka 118, like Singapore’s 8 Shenton Way, also boasts some pretty solid eco-credentials, with the soaring super-skyscraper the first building in Malaysia to earn triple platinum sustainability certifications from global programs, including the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Reporting from CNN Asia, The Business Times, Channel News Asia, and Forbes contributed to this article.
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