The ArtScience Museum is a key permanent attraction of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort located at 10 Bayfront Avenue. The largest private museum in Singapore, it focuses on the connections between art and science through hi-tech exhibits that push disciplinary boundaries. The museum was designed by world-renown architect Moshe Safdie in the shape of a lotus with 10 irregular petals.
Building the museum
Plans to build the museum emerged when Las Vegas Sands Corporation won the bid to develop an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay. It was a key element in a development consisting of three 55-storey towers including a hotel, exhibition space, two large theatres, a casino and a rooftop garden or Sky Park. The resort was one of the most expensive in the world to develop, costing about S$8 billion in total. One of the restrictions of the agreements between resort developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation and the Singapore Tourism Board was that the resort developer would not be allowed to sell, transfer or dispose of any of its estate interests, including the mall and the museum, for a period of 10 years.
After some delays in construction, the museum opened on 17 February 2011, followed by the resort as a whole in June. Its opening exhibitions included many interactive elements that were especially suitable for families. The resort as a whole made a profit of S$196.7 million in its first quarter.
Israeli-born Canadian architect Moshe Safdie designed the museum. Some of his better-known projects include the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and the Yad Vashem Children’s Holocaust Memorial. Safdie strongly believes in embodying the character and culture of the country in the buildings that he designs. The ArtScience museum has a distinctive lotus shape with 10 irregularly shaped petals. Viewed from above, the building looks like a giant outstretched hand and has been dubbed “the welcoming hand of Singapore”. The tip of each petal filters in natural light to showcase each exhibit. There are 21 galleries spread over three storeys with a total floor space of about 50,000ft2.
Another outstanding feature of the museum design is the rooftop, which allows rainwater to flow into a reflecting pond at the lowest level of the building in a continuous cylindrical waterfall. Some of this water is redirected for use in the museum washrooms. The museum was awarded Singapore’s Green Mark for its environmentally friendly design.
The underlying philosophy of the museum is to highlight the creative unity between the arts and science despite their apparent differences. Therefore, the main showcase at the museum is an interactive exhibition entitled “A Journey Through Creativity”. Spread over a total area of 800ft2, the exhibition comprises three galleries called Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression. Leonardo da Vinci’s Flying Machine and a Kongming Lantern are among some of the permanent objects on display. Visitors access the galleries through a set of “Floating Stairs”. They can use interactive touch screens and computerised role-playing to create their own designs and upload them to an online collage.
Travelling exhibitions are also an important part of the museum. These displays are brought in through collaborations with other organisations such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institute, the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Heritage Board. The museum opened with three such exhibitions: “Genghis Khan: The Exhibition”, “Travelling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World” and “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds”. These were followed by exhibitions about Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh and surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
Although the exhibits were based on visual art, the museum incorporated technology to enhance the visitor’s appreciation of the art. For example, the Van Gogh exhibit does not display actual paintings. Instead, projectors beam images of Van Gogh’s work on the walls and ceilings of the gallery to allow visitors to feel that they are part of an Impressionist canvas. The Dali exhibition features over 250 works by the Spanish artists, including his famous melted clocks. Three bronze sculptures by Dali were sold from a show in the museum.
Faizah bte Zakaria
Courtesy: National Library Board Singapore