The iconic North-South axis of Sentosa, starting at the Crane Dance viewing platform, extending past the Lake of Dreams and Festive Terrace, featuring the Merlion Tower and Merlion Walk, and culminating at the Songs of the Sea viewing platform, had an interesting history.
Current Sentosa North-South Axis
In the period 1987-1991, Sentosa underwent a massive upgrading and expansion project, which included the construction of the Ferry Terminal (1987), Fountain Gardens (1987), Under Water World (1991), Lost Civilization Ruined City etc (1988?). The crown jewel of this expansion plan was to be the Sentosa Plaza and Focal Point Structure. However, this plaza and structure were never built, until the Merlion tower was constructed on the allocated land in 1996.
To understand the impetus for the Sentosa Plaza and Focal Point Structure, one must first look at the layout of Sentosa island in the 1980s. Sentosa was gradually expanding to become Singapore’s leisure and adventure island, and various attractions were constructed at different parts of the island. The problem was that the attractions were relatively spaced out, and there wasn’t a clear pedestrian passageway to direct guest flow around the island.
Therefore, many guests would alight at the Ferry Terminal, and walk through the Fountain Gardens, before stopping at the Musical Fountain. The Sentosa Plaza was designed to connect the Musical Fountain with the southern beaches of Sentosa.
A competition was launched in 1988 to gather ideas for the new Sentosa Plaza, which would connect the Musical Fountain to the beach. This is where the current Merlion walk is located. The competition called for two components, one – the design of the plaza and pedestrian mall, and two – the design of a focal structure to draw visitors along the island.
The Straits Times, 4 April 1988
“The (Plaza Focal Point) contest provides opportunities for the public to express what they would like to see along the major pedestrian mall on Sentosa.”
The winning entry to the competition was by Singapore sculptor Elsie Yu, who proposed the construction of a 56 meter tall “dynamic metal sculpture resembling a column of dancing flames that can be seen from the mainland”. This sculpture was to be located 800 meters away from the Ferry Terminal, which is on the current site of the Songs of the Sea amphitheater.
This sculpture indeed sounds intriguing, and it would be a sight to behold given that it is 56 meters tall, which is almost twice the height of the current Merlion tower, at 32 meters.
That is part of the reason we are building a pedestrian mall which is a nicely landscaped walkway with lights and piped in mood music. Visitors can move off from here to the other attractions.
“We plan for a Focal Point Structure to incorporate light and sound, so it will be one of our night features.”
The structure will take the form of a 56-meter-high dynamic metal sculpture resembling a column of dancing flames that can be seen from the mainland.
It will be Sentosa’s landmark when completed next year. The sculpture, which was the winning entry in the Focal Point Structure Design Competition, will cost $2 million. Sculptor Miss Elsie Yu created the structure, which will revolve at three different heights, synchronized to specially composed music. It is meant to entice visitors to walk beyond the musical fountain.
– The Straits Times, 27 May 1988
Below the Focal Point structure would be the Sentosa Plaza, a large landscaped garden connecting the Musical Fountain with the beach.
The entire plan underwent significant revisions shortly after being announced to the public. Work on the Sentosa Plaza went steadily ahead, though the entire area was renamed Flower Terrace. A row of colonnades were constructed above the Musical Fountain to entice visitors to walk beyond the fountain.
“Colonnade the latest attraction on Sentosa“
When is a colonnade a magnet? When it is on Sentosa and is being used to attract people beyond the musical fountain. Comprising 30 gleaming white columns, each nearly three meters high, the newly built Coolnnade fronts the still uncompleted Sentosa Plaza, which will run from the back of the musical fountain. When the plaza is ready next year, visitors will be able to walk across the island from the ferry terminal to the beach at the other end.
– The Straits Times, 15 August 1988
Note the Colonnades above the fountain. Picture taken in early 2000s
However, all mentions of the Focal Point structure was dropped from the press, and construction on this 56-meter tall structure never commenced.
In 1991, the Sentosa Development Corp announced that the Focal Point structure will instead be a 37 meter tall replica of the Merlion, Singapore’s tourism icon. A tender for bids was launched the same year, and attracted 7 bids from various companies.
Seven bid for Sentosa’s Merlion Tower project
SEVEN contracting firms are vying to build the proposed Merlion Tower – which will be 12 times bigger than the present Merlion statue at Collyer Quay – on Sentosa island.
The Straits Times learnt of this from Sentosa Development Corporation, which said that under the tender which closed last week, bids ranging from $9.85 million to $21.32 million were submitted.
The bidders include major contractors such as Sembawang Construction, Woh Hup-Guthrie Construction, Obayashi Corporation and L&M Prestressing.
The tower, which will take the form of a Merlion, will stand on a 1,250-sq-m plot on top of a ridge next to the Flower Terrace. It will house restaurants, souvenir shops and a viewing area which will give a panoramic view of the island.
The tower will complete the north-south pedestrian mall which links the ferry terminal to the Fountain Garden, the Musical Fountain and the Flower Terrace. The walkway will extend to the Merlion Tower, and then to Siloso Beach.
-The Straits Times 28 August 1991
Ground of the Merlion was officially broken in 1993 with the attendance of then Senior Ministor Lee Kuan Yew. The tower was completed in 1996, along with the Merlion walk, a Gaudi inspired walkway linking the Merlion tower to the amphitheater on Central Beach.
Merlion Tower. Note the old monorail passing in the foreground
This officially marked the completion of the North-South axis on Sentosa island, which started in 1987 with the completion of the Ferry Terminal, and was completed in 1996 with the opening of the Merlion tower.
Merlion Walk, leading to the beach
In 2007, the Ferry Terminal, along with the Fountain Gardens and the Musical Fountain, was demolished to make way for Resorts World Sentosa. However, the North-South axis was retained, starting at the Northern end with the Crane Dance viewing platform, continuing along the Bull Ring, and the Lake of Dreams, winding up the Festive Terrace, and extending to the Merlion Plaza. The Merlion Plaza also received a rennovation in 2010, and spots brand new mosaic patterns and a new Sentosa logo. The Flower Terrace was upgraded in 2006, and is now named the Imbiah Terrace.
Left: Old Merlion Plaza, Right: New Merlion Plaza
Merlion Plaza Renovation Concept Art
Merlion Plaza Renovation Concept Art
The old amphitheater at the end of Merlion walk, which used to mark the end of the North-South axis, was demolished in 2004/2005. In its place was a winding walkway which led to the Central Beach plaza. The axis was thus continued with the construction of the Beach Plaza and the Songs of the Sea show area.
Also published on sgbluesky.wordpress.com