Surbana completes Sentosa, an amphitheatre for modern times
As a rapidly maturing economy takes foot in Singapore, it is more common to visualise the city
centre as a 'concrete jungle'. Therein lies an obsession with iconography as the predominant
architectural typology. However, a mere 5 minute journey away from the metropolitan chaos is
Sentosa, a tranquil seaside enclave which provides much needed urban relief. Seamlessly
connected to the city by road and rail, Sentosa’s idyllic theme translates into a somewhat stark
juxtaposition to the city.
From amidst the white beaches and clear blue waters arises a 3000-seater amphitheatre. As dusk
approaches, the amphitheatre starts to reflect the warm, orange hues of sunset, welcoming
visitors who have arrived in eager anticipation of a magnificent symphony of lights, drama and
pyrotechnics, accompanied by storylines of popular local mythology.
Delicately nestled within local fauna is an open plaza. It is not merely a waiting area however.
Instead, it is a threshold – a transitional urban space which interfaces the rapid modernity of the
city and Sentosa’s vernacular experience. It seeks to negotiate the visual contrast between the
ultra-modern aluminum clad train station and the traditional village stage set within the show.
Once inside, the amphitheatre reminiscences the vernacular, echoing the theme of the show.
Hatched patterns on screens and facades recall the traditional basket weaving technique. The
amphitheatre is also surrounded by interlacing timber panels, a contemporary interpretation of
woven fishermen nets. These screens not only invoke curiosity, but double up as security fences.
Part of the design brief called for the amphitheatre to shield views from the crowd while the
show was in progress. Yet it was to remain clearly porous during the day. Two planting belts
lining the perimeter of the amphitheatre seek to address this. Tall trees filter views from the
elevated train station while shrubs soften the hardscape.
In treading 'lightly' on the relatively flat terrain, seating levels were meticulously computed to
maintain a good line of sight for all participants. As such, there was no major land infill exercise
involved. The hatched screens also provide a low cost solution of shading the highly specialised
equipment which requires constant cooling.
As the show draws to a close with the final concord of fireworks and lights, visitors stream out
of the expanse into the open plaza, having savoured the vernacular – long bygone in today’s
hectic context. The amphitheatre glimmers in the background, gradually fading into the silky night
sky. This is precisely the way architecture should be, not drawing attention to itself, but
congruent to its context, receding, experiential, sensual yet delightful.