Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Anyone who has spent time there will confirm that when Singapore decides to build something, it gets on and does it with speed, efficiency and sometimes a real flair for design.
Whether it be the huge Tampines Mall – a spacious suburban shopping centre for locals with a library overlooking the football stadium, an indoor free cinema, supermarket, dozens of hawker food stalls and service stores – or the towering buildings along Orchard Road, Singapore delivers often jaw-dropping architecture and thoughtful design.
Nowhere more so than the spectacular Marina Bay Sands, the three-pillared hotel and dining complex with bars, the ArtScience Museum, shopping and an outdoor infinity pool on the top floor where you can take in the sunset with a cocktail 55 floors above the world below.
And at night in the nearby Gardens by the Bay the free son et lumière show attracts locals and visitors alike for the colourful lights running up and down the futuristic tree-like structures.
It's like being in Avatar.
Even those who simply pass through Singapore's Changi Airport will often speak in glowing terms of terminals with wide passageways between excellent shops and eateries, roof gardens, butterfly garden and entertainment areas.
Singapore even manages to make airports interesting.
“But you wouldn't have seen Jewel,” said my sister who has lived in the city-state for years.
It was the morning after we'd had evening drinks at Marina Bay Sands, danced along at the Garden's light show and then enjoyed cold beer and excellent cheap eats at the nearby hawkers market.
She'd been right about all those places, a harbourside lunch at Sentosa and on a previous trip had pointed me to the beautiful Atlas Bar – voted one of the 50 best bars in the world – in the Parkview building, which itself looks beamed in from Batman's Gotham.
“When you get home people will ask if you've seen Jewel,” she said. “We have to go there.”
And so we went to Jewel with just the barest description of a mall and garden area at Changi Airport. It didn't sound like my thing but . . .
As it turned out this latest addition to this busy airport is breathtaking, but one not too many tourists will have experienced because the spectacular, 10-story Jewel Changi complex only opened in 2019 and within a year Covid lockdowns had seen a huge downturn in travel.
With people getting on aircraft again and many going to or through Singapore, the aptly-named Jewel is a must-see, if only for the spectacular Rain Vortex indoor waterfall which, surrounded by gardens and bathed in light by day, is the largest indoor waterfall in the world. It is 40 metres high and like liquid architecture falling in a natural extension from the curve of the roof.
Jewel is a destination in itself with floors of retail outlets – over 300 in total – but also a restful garden walk on the top floor beneath the geometric glass panels on the roof.
This is Canopy Park with a whimsical topiary garden which will delight children – a colourful alligator, elephant, gorillas, an owl and a spectacular peacock made of flowers and greenery – as well suspended nets to climb on, mazes and slides.
And of course there are small restaurants up here – a bit pricey – for weary adults, tired from their journey or simply wanting to take in the restful ambience.
Jewel boasts one of the region's largest indoor gardens (it's hard to imagine one bigger however) and because it is part of the airport there are links to the three terminals with early check-in lounges for more than two dozen carriers.
Although much of Jewel is open to the public free of charge, there's a modest S$5 charge (less than NZ$6) for Canopy Park's slides, topiary walk, the Foggy Bowl where children play among cool mist, and the Petal Garden.
There are additional charges for the Hedge and Mirrors Mazes and the Sky Nets, but also cheaper family passes.
Even in the endless parade of Singapore's extraordinary buildings and civic design, Jewel is something to see and experience.
Airports are usually places people pass through with varying degrees of frustration, irritation and haste.
Jewel Changi Airport has changed that, it makes you want to linger and relax.
In fact we stood almost speechless for 15 minutes just looking at that astonishing Rain Vortex thinking, Singapore does these things with a real flair for design.