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Singapore’s Marina Barrage: a showcase of award-winning design and sustainable development efforts

Marina Barrage in Singapore is not only pertinent to the protection of the city, but its sustainable design and endless functions make it the perfect Singapore attraction. 

Families enjoying lunchtime picnics on the perfect green grass and flying kites, little children running through fountains, individuals windsurfing on the glassy surface of the reservoir, tourists taking photographs out towards the sea and workers from the city on their lunchtime jogs around winding paths. These are the kinds of scenes you can expect to find at Marina Barrage. Tucked away, just to the side of many other sustainable wonders Singapore proudly boasts, Marina Barrage is in simplistic terms a 350m damn built between the fresh water and the sea. Designed to appear as an extension of the greenery which surrounds it, the establishment seamlessly fits into Singapore’s coastline, modestly veiling its fantastic scientific design and integral value to the city. Futuristic and groundbreaking, Marina Barrage showcases Singapore’s unmatched efforts towards sustainable development. 

After the extensive and painstaking cleaning of the Singapore river in the late 1970s, led by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the idea for Marina Barrage emerged. A newly cleaned pollutant-free river, it was thought, could be utilised for the wellbeing of the city and its residents. In 1987 a plan for Marina Barrage really began to take shape. 

Marina Barrage today has three main functions. The first is water supply. Holding back fresh water from five different rivers that flow into the Singapore River, the impressive 350-metre damn acts as a barrier between the fresh water and the South China Sea. Resultantly, a reservoir is formed, providing Singaporeans with their water supply. In fact, this very reservoir serves around one sixth of the Singaporean population. Additionally, Marina Barrage actually collects rainwater from the main building, above the pump house. Standing on the grassy roof of the Marina Barrage building and looking up river, towards the city, you wouldn’t believe that such a discrete and aesthetically pleasing piece of design could withhold such a huge body of water, and perform such a vital task. 

Talk about structurally impressive; the second function of Marina Barrage is to reduce the flooding of low-lying parts of the city. In other words, the very wall of the damn holds back the sea and stops it from flooding the city. This is absolutely necessary in times of heavy rains and storms. On the other hand, when rain fills up the freshwater reservoir and the water level is high, gates open, allowing fresh water to be pumped out to sea in a controlled manner. The pumps can move water at a rate of around one Olympic sized swimming pool every minute. 

However, what is truly phenomenal and inspiring about the design of the damn, is the way it has been built with the people of Singapore, as well as tourists, in mind. Visit Marina Barrage for a dose of education, mixed with soaking wet recreation on the clear reservoir waters and leisurely activities on the flawless grass roof. Who knew that an element of essential urban infrastructure could double up as an attraction and hang out spot? Popular activities for locals at Marina Barrage include yoga, jogging, kayaking, windsurfing, dragon boating, picnics, kite flying and photography. If you want to stick around for lunch, there are even a few restaurants in the area. 

Wander out to Viewing Pad for an unobstructed view; South China Sea to one side and the reservoir to the other. The picture perfect location of Marina Barrage, near the entrance to Bay East of the Gardens by the Bay, combined with the commanding urban skyline makes the spot absolutely perfect for getting a good overview of the city. Looking back at the city across dense greenery, dotted with Singapore’s main attractions such as the Flower Dome and the Marina Bay Sands, you’ll be completely in awe.

All of this remarkable man-made beauty – built upon the foundations of profound design and monumental construction – has an underlying element of sustainability that might not even meet the eye upon your first glimpse. For example, as well as the very inviting, luscious lawns, the roof of Marina Barrage boasts a solar panel system which contributes towards 50% of the building’s total energy needs. What’s more, a drainage system for surface water is installed into the ground, comprised of a mesh of recycled plastics. Sprinklers for the irrigation of the grass roof have sensors installed which detect rain. When rain is sensed and additional water isn’t required, sprinklers shut off, helping to reduce water usage. Also not detectable upon a fleeting visit to Marina Barrage, is the reduced surface temperature of the building itself as a result of the grass blanket. Lower surface temperatures result in reduced usage of cooling systems required for the inside of the building. 

Marina Barrage is no ordinary park, no ordinary damn, or ordinary reservoir. Quite literally built upon an incredible story of cleaning and greening Singapore as a city, Marina Barrage is definitely one to add to the list of places to see in Singapore. Whether you simply wander down to look at the unobstructed panoramic views it offers, or choose to stay for the afternoon with your book, its worth a trip. Harmoniously extending from the parks and vegetation which surround it, don’t be fooled by the flawless design, Marina Barrage is the even more impressive and far more sustainable than meets the eye. 

Jessica Beaumont
Noticing the footprints left behind by travellers in the countries she has lived in and loved, Jessica found her calling in the sustainable travel niche. Aside from writing, Jessica is found exploring the Adelaide Hills for good views and delectable wines, dancing, taking leisurely walks on the beach and trying to make friends with dogs.