After Singapore declared its independence, in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew defined the new city in contrast to its economic rival: Hong Kong, another liberated British colony and growing global port, was, as he recently recalled, “just tarmac, concrete, tall buildings, and chock-full of people.” Lee set out to attract international development by making Singapore into a “garden city,” planting thousands of trees and camouflaging infrastructure with tropical greenery, which had once carpeted the island. By 2003, inspired by the rise of ecotourism, Singapore’s National Parks Board had conceived of another hybrid of enterprise and environmentalism: a $1 billion initiative to develop three iconic green spaces adjacent to the main business district, on the city’s Marina Bay.
The “Supertrees,” designed by the British landscape-architecture firm Grant Associates on the site of a former parking lot, are the focal point of the first and largest of the Gardens by the Bay. They loom over 133 acres of blooms and foliage: 18 steel-and-concrete trunks between 80 and 160 feet high, draped in climbing vines and flowers and crowned with zigzagging wire branches. Lit up at night, the Supertrees look like futuristic cocktail glasses.