Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Designed by Singapore’s DP Architects and London’s Michael Wilford & Partners, this performing arts centre comprises two main venues, a 1,800-seat concert hall and a 2,000-seat theatre, with some of the most state-of-the-art acoustics in the world. Opened in 2002, the distinctive aluminium cladding on the exterior has earned it the local nickname, the ‘durian’.
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is a waterside building located on six hectares of waterfront land alongside Marina Bay near the mouth of the Singapore River, purpose-built to be the centre for performing arts for the island nation of Singapore. Taking its name from the nearby Esplanade.
Michael Wilford & Partners
Situated on a magnificent site with frontages to the sea and to the Padang and Civic District of the City, the Arts Centre is conceived as a multi-activity complex for the staging of a wide variety of artistic activities. A unique assembly of forms and spaces contains five performance auditoria: an 1800 seat Concert Hall, 2000 seat Lyric Theatre, 850 seat Medium Theatre, 450 seat Adaptable Theatre and 250 seat Development Studio, together with several outdoor performance spaces and promenade routes. Rounded architectural forms contain the three primary auditoria, echoing the roof shapes particular to the region. Their all-enveloping facade system changes pattern to suit the orientation, providing solar shading and controlling the internal environment of the pavilions.
Venues for art and culture help to identify the civic core of a city. As spaces that render local traditions visible, they often become a nexus for the regional and the international. Despite Singapore’s rapid transformation into an international metropolis, its city center lacked an anchor for the arts, and in 1989 the government established an Advisory Council to explore the creation of such an endorsing landmark. Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay opened in 2002 and today embodies the civic heart of downtown, an element projecting the creative energy of the performing arts in Singapore.
Two rounded envelopes over the primary performance venues provide the dominating legible form. These are lightweight, curved space frames fitted with triangulated glass and a system of champagne-coloured sunshades that offer an optimised tradeoff between solar shading and panoramic outward views. The result provides filtered natural light and a dramatic transformation of shadow and texture throughout the day; at night the forms glow back onto the city as lanterns by the bay. The project’s Y-shaped composition addresses adjacent civic spaces at the heart of downtown Singapore — the Padang green, old City Hall and High Court on the main axis, as well as the Marina Square development and the public waterfront promenade encircling Marina Bay.
As a major civic centre, the project explores the continuity of public and performance space. Its programme is planned to engage both those actively seeking the arts as well as the casual visitor, with a variety of formal and informal visual art display areas distributed throughout the site. Two primary performance venues, a 2000-seat theatre and 1800-seat concert hall, are supplemented with two smaller 250-seat experimental theatres and a popular 450-seat outdoor theatre on the waterfront. The main entrance foyer is designed to host a large sculptural display and space for free music performances; this lobby connects visitors with ground floor retail, the interior event spaces, a library specializing in the arts, and to rooftop landscapes that offer panoramic views of the city.
The Esplanade contains world-class performing spaces, coupled with a wide range of professional support services and facilities. Other than performing venues, the Esplanade also contains meeting venues, as well as other lifestyle and arts related services. The main highlights of the Esplanade – the Concert Hall and Theatre, are connected to the main Concourse via a foyer, while the Esplanade Mall is accessible through an entry point located between these 2 halls.
The concert hall serves as a venue for concerts, recitals, and other performances. There are only five other halls in the world with such state-of-the-art acoustics.The orchestral platform is able to hold up to 120 musicians. Above it is the movable acoustic canopy, which is composed of three pieces, each weighing 17 tons. This canopy serves the purpose of a sound reflector, both to get the right acoustics to suit the ongoing event, and also to enable musicians to hear themselves on stage. As such, the hall can cater to a diverse range of musical performances.
The hall’s reverberation chamber, used to vary the acoustic characteristics of the Hall, is an open void that spans three levels and has a volume of 9,500 cubic metres, or about the volume of four Olympic-sized swimming pools. It boasts 84 computer controlled doors and flaps. Each door weighs between 3 to 11 tons, with the largest door being 10.5 meters in height and the smallest door being 2.2 meters tall. This chamber is hidden behind mahogany timbre ribs that frame the front walls of the Concert Hall.
The concert hall’s pipe organ comprises 4740 pipes and 61 stops. It was custom designed and built by Johannes Klais Orgelbau, one of the world’s renowned organ-builders.
The Concert Hall is able to comfortably seat about 1,600 people over four levels in an intimate setting. Types of seats include Stalls, Foyer stalls, and Circles 1, 2, and 3. There are another 200 seats in the choir stalls behind the concert hall stage, which may be converted into Gallery seats for an additional 200 people. There are also four exclusive VIP Private Boxes, which provide a close-up view of the performances.
The Esplanade’s Theatre which has a capacity of about 2,000 seats is a form of an adaptation of the horseshoe form of a traditional European opera house. Spread out over four levels, it is designed for all genres of the performing arts, including but not limited to Asian and Western arts, Musicals and plays, classical, traditional and contemporary forms and advanced multimedia performances, whether they are large scale, or intimate in size.
The Theatre is home to Singapore’s largest performing stage (39m length x 23m width), and this caters for a diverse range of performances. There is a main stage and two ancillary stages of similar size to facilitate technical set-ups and quick scene changes. The main stage is framed by an adjustable proscenium arch, allowing the stage width to be adjusted from 12m-16m. There is also a 30m high fly tower, as well as an adjustable orchestra pit that can hold up to 100 musicians.
Although the theatre is considered large with about 2000 seats, the viewing distance between the furthest seat and the stage is just 40m, thus allowing patrons a clear view of what’s going on on stage.
Project name: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Location: 1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore 038981
Type: Mix Use, Dance / Music Center, Theatre and Auditorium
Project Area: 80,500 sq.m.
Project Year: 1992 – 2002
Cost: S $540 M
Completion Year: 2002
- 2006 President’s Design Award Singapore – Design of the Year
- 2006 8th SIA Architectural Design Awards – Interior Design – Honourable Mention
- 2005 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – Worldwide Award
- 2005 Marble Architectural Awards – Internazionale Marmie Macchine Carrara SPA – The Special Mention in the Section II (Interior Design)
- 2004 FIABCI Prix d”Excellence Awards
- 2004 Singapore Structural Steel Awards – Society 20th Anniversary Steel Design Awards: Merit Award
- 2004 BCA Awards – Energy Efficient Building Awards: 1st Position
- 2004 2nd SIA Architectural Design Awards – Facade Excellence Awards: Honourable Mention
- 2004 7th SIA Architectural Design Awards – Honourable Mention
- 2003 Glasstech Asia Glass Architecture Design Competition: 2nd Prize
- 2003 4th SIA Architectural Design Awards – Micro Design Awards : Gold Medal Award
- 2000 SIA Architectural Design Awards – Bentley IT Awards: Top Prize
- 1999 Bentley Awards – Excellence in Architecture Awards – Proactive Engineering Success Awards
Client / Owner / Developer: Public Works Department and Singapore Arts Centre Company Ltd.
Architects: Michael Wilford & Partners
Associate Architects: DP Architects Pte Ltd
Mechanical, Electrical & Structural Engineers: Public Works Department, Singapore
Cost Consultants: Public Works Department, Singapore
Acoustics: Artec Consultants Inc.
Theatre Consultant: Theatre Project Consultants, London
Landscaping Consultant: Peter Walker / Cloustons
Text Description: © Courtesy of Michael Wilford & Partners, DP Architects
Images: © Hidetaka Mori, Eujin Goh, Tom Ravenscroft, Geraldine Andrieu, Vikas Gore