Singapore (CNN) — A 250-meter-long bouncing net three stories above ground. A 50-meter-long suspended bridge with glass-panel flooring.
Walking trails amongst a lush jungle of animal-shaped topiaries in a five-story terraced garden. A 40-meter-tall waterfall cascading from an opening in a vaulted glass roof canopy. An art sculpture made up of four giant, integrated slides.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
The thrilling attractions at Singapore’s SGD$1.7 billion (US$1.27 billion) Jewel Changi, an addition to Changi Airport due to open in 2019, will boost the already impressive offerings of a facility that’s been voted best in the world for six years in a row.
With its “delicate” latticework of glass panels framed in steel, the distinctive donut-shaped Jewel is first and foremost a central hub, connecting three of Changi Airport’s current four terminals.
But it’s also potentially a destination in its own right, featuring a large mall to entice locals and visitors alike.
Conceived by Moshe Safdie as a new “magical garden,” hopes are high that the award-winning architect’s impactful building will become as celebrated as his Sky Pool at Marina Bay Sands.
“I wanted to explore a new kind of urban space, a space you go to as a matter of course, because you need to shop, because you’re flying out somewhere, and yet it’s a garden — somewhere that says ‘let’s rethink what the public realm is, let’s rethink what it is to shop,” Safdie tells CNN Travel.
While the gardens dominate the five higher floors, retail and airport facilities will take up the five floors below ground level.
“I think one of the reasons [we won] the bid was that the other submissions looked like malls and felt like malls, while this one, you don’t think of it as a mall, because it’s a new kind of experience. It makes us rethink what urban centers could be like if we stretch our thinking.”
A new garden for Singapore
The initial brief for Changi Jewel requested a few essentials.
“Some airport expansion space for Terminal 1, some checking in, a fair bit of retail and an attraction,” Safdie recalls.
“I came up with the concept of a magical garden, which was immediately embraced by CapitaLand [the developer who commissioned him as part of its bid for the project],” he says. “From then on, the project slowly evolved.”
Often promoted as a ‘City in a Garden,’ Singapore has worked hard to develop the pervasive greenery throughout its concrete jungle. It expanded its famed Botanic Gardens — a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015 — with the development of Gardens by the Bay, which opened six years ago.
Made up of 101 hectares of prime real estate at the city’s Marina Bay district, it includes two large glass conservatories, heritage gardens, man-made lakes and Instagram-friendly Supertrees.
“We were well aware that Singapore is already a well-endowed city in terms of gardens, so we wanted to offer something different,” says Safdie.
“I think you go to Gardens by the Bay because you want to learn about plant life, enjoy the sub-tropical environment — it’s an education process and a destination. Our garden offers a very different experience, it’s still light-filled, giving you this impression of being outside, but it’s completely indoors.”
Safdie says he explored a variety of shapes through numerous doodles and sketches before settling on this donut-like torus shape, with a distinctive diagrid steel and glass roof.
“We had height limits, because of the aircraft and control tower, and we also had to work with the constraint of the site — which is rectangular — so it had to be an ellipse or a combination of paraboloids.”
Achieving his vision has not been without difficulties, especially as a monorail train connecting two of the terminals will pass through the middle of the site.
“It was a tricky geometric program because we couldn’t create a symmetrical torus as the waterfall would have been right above the train. It took a lot of computer work to create an asymmetrical torus where the center is actually off-center,” he says.
“But I think that turned out to be a beautiful form, giving it a particular elegance.”
Designed to handle up to 10,000 gallons per minute, the central oculus is key to managing the heavy rains that fall over Singapore. Safdie points out that the resulting waterfall output will be recycled through the building.
Controlling the amount of sunshine coming through without generating too much heat and still bringing in enough light for the plants to thrive, and save energy, was solved by incorporating triple Low-E glass.
Each of the 9,000 panels covering the facade is unique in size and shape, weighing between 250 and 300 kilograms, and they have a 16-millimetre air gap, which also helps reduce aircraft noise intruding into the Jewel.
Installing the panels has been like putting together a giant jigsaw and required careful execution when moving the panels from the ground to their place on the soon-to-be iconic structure.
Staying on top
Changi Airport handled 62.2 million passenger movements in 2017, with about 30% as transit passengers, a proportion that has broadly remained unchanged, says Ivan Tan, Changi Airport Group spokesperson.
“A trend that we have observed is an increasing number of passengers are taking up ‘self-connect’ options, which means they purchase two separate tickets and plan their own transit itinerary),” says Tan.
Hung Jean, CEO of Jewel Changi Airport Development, says “the tourism mindshare that Jewel aims to capture will significantly augment Changi Airport’s status” as a leading international air hub.
“We are observing a trend where more and more travelers are spending less time in major cities and are instead, exploring less discovered destinations to gain meaningful experiences beyond leisurely vacations,” says Hung.
“This makes the role of air hubs even more important in their travel journeys as these savvy travelers prefer to book their own flights and choose the airports they wish to transfer to and transit in.”
Jewel’s positioning as “a lifestyle destination uniquely fashioned with luscious landscaping to mirror Singapore’s reputation as a ‘Garden in the City’,” will make Changi Airport a compelling destination that can fill travelers’ needs for such experiential journeys, Hung says.
With 75% of the overall construction completed, visitors can already appreciate the Jewel’s distinctive shape, but they will still have to wait several months before experiencing Safdie’s magical garden and other attractions.
Safdie's sketch of the Jewel structure.
The new Changi Jewel will further cement Singapore's position as a leading international air hub.
Ghana Is Being Heralded As The Next Big Tourist Destination. Here’s Why
When some of the most well-known faces from the African diaspora arrived for a recent vacation in Accra, Ghana, it looked like just another gathering of famous people.
Actors including Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with supermodel Naomi Campbell, TV sports presenter Mike Hill, and author Luvvie Ajayi.
Behind this meet-up of box office stars, fashion royalty and top creatives is a focused and ambitious strategy to make Ghana a major tourist destination.
The country recently unveiled a 15-year-long tourism plan that seeks to increase the annual number of tourists to Ghana from one million to eight million per year by 2027.
Ghana's travel industry is projected to raise $8.3 billion a year by 2027, plus associated benefits, according to the plan.
VIP guests attended events chaired by Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, the architect of the plan to boost tourism and diversify the country's economy through reaching out to its diaspora, while guests took part in conferences, festivities and trips across the country to discover its unique and sobering heritage.
The primary purpose of the festival was to forge closer ties between Ghana, the African continent and those of African descent living elsewhere.
It's 400 years since the first African slaves were taken from countries like Ghana to mainland America, marking the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade route. This timing is based on the first recorded landing of a ship carrying Africans in Virginia in August 1619.
An estimated 75% of slave dungeons on the west coast of Africa were in Ghana -- millions of people were taken and transported on ships that departed from Ghanaian ports.
President Akufo-Addo's Year of Return announcement pointed to Ghana's tragic legacy as a reason for diaspora descendants to return and learn about this chapter of history.
The celebrities who attended the Full Circle Festival were taken on guided tours of the slave dungeons.
"Every person of color needs to get on this pilgrimage," said actor and co-organizer Boris Kodjoe who is of Ghanaian descent. "They need to experience this journey and get in touch with their emotional heritage, walk through the dungeons and see the 'door of no return,'" he told CNN.
Marketing rockstar Bozoma Saint John -- who has a series of marketing coups like Beyonce's halftime Super Bowl show under her belt -- worked with Kodjoe, inviting 100 of the most influential members of the African diaspora to party with them at the festival over Christmas and New Year.
Saint John, who works for global media conglomerate Endeavor and previously had high profile roles with Uber and Apple Music, says the project is close to her heart.
"As long as you have melanin and you are seeking a return to Africa, it is a must," she told CNN.
"I really felt that I wanted to show people the country I know and love. I take it as a personal mission and will use my professional weight to help the mission."
Saint John says that returning members of the diaspora can expect joy on their trip to Ghana as well as moments of solemnity. Skyscrapers and restaurants feature prominently in her promotional material.
"All the fun things you can do in Nice, Bali, Ibiza, you can do here in Ghana too," she added.
Year of return
The celebrity-attended Full Circle Festival was the opening act of a broader Year of Return, announced by President Akufo-Addo in September 2018.
Speaking about the year ahead at Washington's National Press Club Akufo-Addo said Ghana would open its "arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family."
The Year of Return includes a music festival, an investment conference targeting diaspora Ghanaians, and the Right to Return initiative, encouraging African-Americans to seek citizenship in Ghana.
This year-long initiative builds on a long tradition of looking outwards.
Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to win independence from colonial rule, has a history of pursuing ties with Africans overseas. It dates back to the country's first President Kwame Nkrumah, whose vision of pan-Africanism included alliances with diaspora communities.
Nkrumah enjoyed warm relations with African-American icons such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who both traveled to Ghana to meet him. Writer Maya Angelou spent time in the country after its independence and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois is buried in Accra.
Ghana has also sought to incentivize diaspora returnees through legislation such as the Right of Abode law of 2000 that allows people of African descent to apply for the right to stay in the country indefinitely.
It was followed by the Joseph Project in 2007 that encouraged Africans in the diaspora to return, officials have compared it to Israel's Law of Return that allows Jews to become citizens.
These initiatives have had some success. An estimated 3,000 African-Americans had permanently settled in Ghana by 2014.
By the time Saint John is finished with marketing Ghana to the world, she is hopeful it will have knock-on impact across the region and wants to reshape people's perceptions.
"We are going to use Ghana as a gateway to the rest of the continent," she said.
"There are beaches in Kenya as well as snow-capped mountains. We need to tell the story of all the amazing opportunities Africa has to offer."
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