At first glance, visitors to the new Jewel Complex at Singapore’s Changi Airport might feel like they have entered some mythical dimension. An indoor waterfall - the tallest in the world - drops 40m from an oculus the size of a bus. A canopy park has nets for bouncing and walking strung as high as 25m above the ground. A forest of 1 400 trees provides shade and greenery.
The multi-floored Jewel, an asymmetrical toroid-shaped building between the airport’s existing terminals and the air-traffic control tower, opened officially on April 17. The result of four years of construction and $1.25 billion in investment, the commercial and entertainment structure aims to do what no other building has done: make an airport the destination.
“Singapore is a tourist destination, but 30% of the people coming through Changi don’t visit,” said Ivan Tan, a senior vice president for Changi Airport Group. The country wants to draw those passengers on connecting flights, get them out to experience a taste of Singapore, so that they might come back for a longer stay.
The centrepiece of the building is the forest valley with a terraced garden, and its heart is the rain vortex waterfall. The top floor, called Canopy Park, features bouncing and walking nets, a 50m sky bridge, two mazes (one with mirrors, the other hedges), a giant slide, and eight bars and restaurants.
The exterior of the 10-storey building, which was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and built by CapitaLand, an Asian developer, is made of glass and crisscrossed with an aluminium and steel framework, allowing the entire interior to be bathed in natural light.
The Jewel offers plenty of options for keeping visitors busy, even if shops and other amenities in airports are nothing new.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol has a branch of the city’s famous Rijksmuseum and at Kennedy International Airport in New York, JetBlue once ran a concert series. Hong Kong International Airport’s SkyMart and SkyPlaza have more than 350 shops and restaurants spread across two terminals.
But the Jewel is an airport mall on steroids. In total, there are 280 retail outlets and food and beverage stops. Familiar stores line the floors - Foot Locker, Nike, the first Shake Shack in Southeast Asia - as well as local Singaporean brands such as Naiise and Supermama. Other amenities include a 130-room Yotelair hotel, a full-size supermarket, an 11-screen cinema and - don’t forget it’s an airport - early check-in counters.
In 2018, nearly 66 million passengers passed through the airport, a number that continues to rise.
s entry to the Jewel does not require airport security screening, Tan believes locals will also arrive in drovesA. Officials estimated between 40million to 50 million people would visit during the first year, he said, 60% of whom were expected to be residents.
“Gardens have always been a place of pleasure,” said Charu Kokate, the principal at Safdie Architects who oversaw the project. On a recent tour of the Jewel, Kokate pointed out marble floors from China, lava stone blocks from Indonesia and other design considerations. There were many layers to the project, she said.
“The sky, the waterfall, the people hidden by the landscaping. Through the glass roof you can see a plane flying overhead, up there are reflections of people next to the slide,” she said. “It’s very active and yet tranquil.”