Saturday, March 13, 2010

Water World

Imagine walking along a horseshoe-shaped bridge on a Sunday morning, catching the first glimpse of the sun as it rises from a waterway.

Or in the evening, heading to another similarly shaped bridge, but this one with a shaded dome, where you can see the setting sun reflected in the water.

And best of all, there is no need to travel overseas to enjoy these scenes.

By the end of the year, all this will be possible when a 4.2km waterway at Punggol is completed.

Besides viewing sunrises and sunsets, visitors to the more than $25 million waterway, called My Waterway@Punggol, will be able to kayak or canoe as well as dine alfresco.

Four footbridges will provide access to both banks of the promenade. Two of them will be prime spots to enjoy sunrise and sunset views.

Construction of the waterway is underway on an empty field in Punggol that is parallel to Punggol Drive. The waterway is being built by damming two rivers at the east and west of Punggol, the Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Punggol, to form two reservoirs to meet Singapore’s increasing water needs.

When completed, the waterway will link the two reservoirs to transfer water from one to the other.

Mr Alan Tan, principal architect and a deputy managing director at the Housing Board (HDB), which is in charge of the project, says that together with national water agency PUB, they saw that the waterway could ‘complement the housing parcel for waterfront living’.

In May 2008, a landscape masterplan competition for the waterway was announced.

Local firm Surbana International Consultants and its Japanese partner Sen Inc were named winners in December that year.

The winning proposal not only showcased what could be done along the waterway, but also featured four distinctive footbridges that were both functional and reflective of the surroundings and Punggol’s history.

‘We want to give visitors an experiential journey from one end of the waterway to the other,’ says Mr Tan.

Surbana’s senior architectural associate Bonita Tan says the bridges are about 1km apart, helping give easy access to both sides of the 20m- to 60m-wide, and 4m-deep, waterway.

She adds that the two footbridges where the waterway meets the two rivers are designed to project out into the rivers, so visitors can fully enjoy the views of the sun rising and setting.

Another bridge, which resembles stilts on water, has been nicknamed the ‘kelong’ bridge.

‘We wanted to bring home the idea of old Punggol,’ says Ms Tan.

Back in the early days, Punggol was a fishing village and there were many kelongs that dotted the area. ‘Walking on this bridge gives the experience of walking on water, like on a kelong,’ she adds.

The last bridge, which will lead to a future commercial centre, has a more modern look. ‘But it will have an undulating form that reflects the nature of the landscape,’ says Ms Tan.

To make the bridges blend in with the surroundings, she says materials such as composite timber and steel, which will be painted for a more rustic look, will be used.

‘There will also be plenty of greenery on the bridges,’ she adds.

The team is also working on creating a heritage trail along the waterway to remind visitors of Punggol’s transformation.

For example, photographs of Punggol during its early days will be put up along the waterway.

On a 280m-long wall at Punggol town centre, there will be panels depicting the old Punggol.

‘It could be motifs of fishing villages, or even chilli crab, since the dish is well-known here,’ suggests Mr Tan.

My Waterway @ Punggol is the first of its kind to be built in Singapore. It is part of the transformation plan to turn Punggol into a waterfront town.

Catching the sunset at Punggol

Plans for Punggol’s makeover were first announced in 1996, by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. But the Asian financial crisis halted the town’s development.

Developments have accelerated in the last two years since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong offered a new vision for it in his 2007 National Day Rally Speech.

Today, the town has a population of about 53,600 and this is projected to grow to 70,000 by next year.

The Government aims to build an extra 21,000 homes along the waterway, comprising 60 per cent HDB flats and 40 per cent private homes.

Last November, the HDB unveiled the winning design for the first batch of flats that will line the waterway.

Designed by international architectural firm Group8asia and local firm Aedas, there will be 1,200 flats featuring sky terraces, roof gardens and panoramic views of the Punggol Waterway.

The HDB hopes to offer these flats for sale this year and residents are expected to get their flats by 2014 or 2015.

While Punggol resident Tan Bee Bee, 24, is not living near the waterway, she is excited about it. The tertiary student lives a five-minute drive away.

‘I can imagine it will be so scenic then and I won’t have to travel to East Coast Park to view the sunset,’ she says.

Source: Straits Times, 13 Mar 2010

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