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Images: Changi Airport Group

APEX Insight: Already treasured as a world-class hub, Singapore Changi Airport will bedazzle air travelers with the 2019 opening of Jewel, a public marketplace, garden and international landmark all wrapped under an iconic glass dome.   

Television personality and chef Anthony Bourdain knows his way around airports. With four travel-focused shows under his belt, he’s logged enough hours in terminals to distinguish good from bad. His favorite? Singapore Changi Airport. “It’s got it all,” he says. In the inaugural episode of The Layover in 2011, he declared it’s the airport you want to get stuck in.

While his opinions can sometimes be controversial, when it comes to this particular issue, most agree that he’s right. It’s a leisure hub (yes, there are movie theaters, spas and video game decks), a modern architectural gem, a culinary cosmopolis, a green oasis and the sixth-busiest airport on the planet – in 2015, 55.4 million passengers passed through its doors.

But instead of resting on its reputation, owner Changi Airport Group (CAG) has big plans for the future. A fourth terminal is slated to open at the end of 2017, and then there’s Jewel – a glassy doughnut-shaped complex that CAG and its partner CapitaLand Mall Asia, the shopping mall arm of real estate giant CapitaLand, believe will give Singapore’s airport the edge amid intensifying global competition. Thanks to its lifestyle-first focus, it will also further cement Changi’s status not only as a transit point, but also as a destination for travelers seeking unique experiences.

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The Jewel in the Crown
Once completed at the beginning of 2019, and coupled with Terminal 4, Singapore Changi Airport’s capacity will rise to 85 million passengers a year. While those beginning their journey in Singapore or transiting through the city-state are the project’s key demographic, Jewel will be open for all. “We are confident that passengers will choose to stop over at Changi just to visit Jewel,” says Hung Jean, CEO of Jewel Changi Airport Development, the project’s development and property management.

It’s more than an airport project, Hung says. It’s a tourism project. Positioned in front of Terminal 1 on the former site of an open-air car park, Jewel will be a public space, intended for the enjoyment of destination tourists and locals alike. Running through a list of its future offerings, it’s easy to see the appeal, even if you call Singapore home. Jewel won’t just be an extension of the airport, it will be a 1.4 million square foot greenhouse, park and mall. At its core will be a jaw-dropping 130-foot-tall waterfall dubbed the Rain Vortex, fed by recycled rainwater. Surrounding the cascade will be 72,000 square feet of trees, plants, ferns and shrubs – a verdant paradise known as Forest Valley that stretches over the building’s five above-ground floors (the remaining five storeys will live below ground as parking facilities).

“To travelers Changi Airport is an icon of Singapore; to Singaporeans, a welcome landmark telling us that we have arrived home.” — Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore

“We wanted to create a space where activities that were traditionally outdoors in nature are brought to an indoor environment,” Robin Goh, a CAG spokesperson, told CNN in 2014. It’s an idea that’s already proven popular at the airport. Terminal 3, for instance, features its own five-storey vertical garden, a huge living wall that takes advantage of the building’s see-through design. Elsewhere in the airport, there are butterfly, cactus, orchid and sunflower gardens. These features and Jewel’s planned green spaces are in line with Singapore’s reputation as a city in a garden, Hung says.

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Nonetheless, traveler experience is at the heart of the airport’s expansion. Connected to Terminal 1 through an expanded arrival hall and to the other terminals via walkways, Jewel makes it easy for travelers in transit or starting their journey in Singapore to enjoy the space. Early-check-in facilities and baggage drops mean they can explore worry-free. A 130-room hotel named Yotel, the “affordable luxury” brand with outposts at London Gatwick, Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle, will give those with longer stopovers a place to rest before hopping on their next flight.

Jewel will also provide dedicated spaces for travelers continuing their journey via cruise or coach, thereby tapping into an important market segment, Hung explains. These facilities will include specific waiting areas, baggage transfer services and shuttles to the ferry terminals. “It will be seamless and convenient,” Hung says. The new project will also impact the existing Terminal 1, allowing it to increase its handling capacity through more spacious arrival and baggage claim halls, a revamped departure check-in hall and new ground transport facilities, she adds.

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Designing a New Landmark
Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie and his firm Safdie Architects, the glass and steel complex balances the needs of its plant life with the comfort of its patrons. “Jewel was conceived as a spatial and functional integration of airport facilities, a major retail marketplace and an oasis garden of extraordinary scale,” Safdie explains. “These various functions are juxtaposed in such a way that they positively impact each other. The several levels of retail are permeated by vertical and horizontal openings to the garden.”

From the outside, the building will be a landmark of the city-state’s urban landscape. “It will glow at night and afford dramatic views from all surrounding areas,” he adds. Safdie knows what it takes to construct a landmark: The architect and his team were also responsible for Singapore’s hallmark Marina Bay Sands resort.

Despite only being in the construction phase – piling has just been completed with ongoing structural work taking place – the project has already garnered accolades from the design world. In July, it won an International Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. It was one of the few yet-to-be-completed works to earn the distinction and was chosen because of how it aims to reinvent the definition of the modern airport and how it strives to bring together a park, a marketplace and airport facilities under one roof.

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Connecting Local to Global
Singapore Changi Airport’s pedigree already puts Singapore front and center. Dining options let passengers get a taste of its famed hawker fare at the 24-hour Singapore Food Street. At the same time, it brings in world flavors, whether in the form of a French boulangerie or a Japanese ramen outpost.

Jewel continues this pattern. The shops, for instance, won’t only be the big brands travelers are used to seeing over and over in airport halls. “We want the world to meet Singapore and for Singapore to meet the world,” Hung says. Changi will work with local brands, introduce artisan showcases and partner with craftspeople. The plan is to also introduce international players that are new to Singapore and Asia. It’s about making the retail experience a process of discovery for our visitors, Hung adds.

Discovery is a key tenet of Changi’s lifestyle mandate, whether through special projects like the Social Tree, a nearly 30-foot-tall interactive installation that displays photos and videos snapped via on-site touchscreen photo booths, or one-off events like a Star Wars exhibition featuring photo opportunities with life-size X-Wing and TIE fighters. Its Kinetic Rain sculptures in Terminal 1 mesmerizes passengers, while its free Singapore sling sample at the Raffles Long Bar in Terminal 3 undoubtedly delights and puts any tensions regarding upcoming flights at bay.

With Jewel, Changi will take its reputation as a favorite airport to new heights and raise the bar for airports worldwide.

This story was originally published in the October/November issue of APEX Experience magazine.