What buildings best define our city's skyline? We polled Singaporeans from all walks of life to find out.

Which architectural icons best define Singapore's urban landscape? Going Places recently took this question to the streets and polled 30 Singaporeans—from architects, homemakers and students to professionals and taxi drivers—to hear what they had to say. Obvious choices such as Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and Raffles Hotel came out tops. But there were some surprises as well – older structures and attractions that have stood the test of time are also big favourites.

Popular picks: Singapore's top three icons

1. Marina Bay Sands

Given the impact it has had on Singapore's skyline, it is no surprise that the triple-towered Marina Bay Sands came out tops in the poll with 22 out of 30 votes for Singapore's most iconic structure. Developed by Las Vegas Sands, it is billed as the world's most expensive standalone casino property at S$8 billion. It was designed by Moshe Safdie Architects and Aedas Singapore.

2. Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Some affectionately call it the "Durian". Love or hate the Esplanade's spiky aluminium-clad roof, it is hard to deny that it is uniquely Singaporean. The building was designed by DP Architects of Singapore and the London-based Michael Wilford & Partners.

3. Raffles Hotel

Dating back to 1887, Raffles Hotel is both a monument and an institution to many around the world. One of Singapore's most distinctive colonial-era buildings, it was built by the famous Armenian businessmen, the Sarkies brothers, and is regarded as the birthplace of the world-famous Singapore Sling cocktail. Designed by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren, the main building of Raffles Hotel was completed in 1899. It survived the war and was declared a national monument in 1987.

Surprising favourites

1. Changi Airport air traffic control tower

1. Changi Airport air traffic control tower

To many Singaporeans, the 80m-high air traffic control tower in front of Singapore Changi Airport represents 'home' in a way that no other building does. "It is the first thing people see when they arrive in Singapore and last thing they see upon leaving it" says 22 year-old student Marcus Chua.

The airport project was spearheaded and led by the then-Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority Howe Yoon Chong, and involved a massive land reclamation initiative on Singapore's eastern tip. And it is on this reclaimed land that the landmark tower, once called "Airtropolis", now sits. The tower began operations with the first flight in 1981 and has since become synonymous with the award-winning Changi Airport. Today, it handles communications with up to 900 flights a day.

2. Haw Par Villa

Even as they settled into their new home, Singapore's early Chinese immigrants retained strong connections to their native country's cultural and mythological traditions. Such sentiments saw their physical manifestation in Haw Par Villa, which many Singaporeans affectionately remember as the "Tiger Balm Gardens".

It was built in 1937 by business magnate Aw Boon Haw, the 'Tiger Balm King', as part of a lavish abode for his younger brother, Aw Boon Par. The sprawling gardens surrounding the mansion were developed as an entertainment park to illustrate vignettes of Chinese mythology. "It captures the importance of spirituality during that era," says 27 year-old architect Tan Toon Cheng. Today, the gardens remain, but the magnificent mansion that once stood atop this hill has since been destroyed, having been bombed by the Japanese in the 1940s.

Even so, the colourful Haw Par Villa continues to captivate. What lies within continues to intrigue — more than 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas based on famous Chinese historical personalities, mythology and folklore are distributed throughout the park. They include a man drowning in a pond of blood, a giant crab with a human head and more oddities. These figurines have been restored to their former glory with fresh coats of paint. One of the most talked-about exhibits is its interpretation of the Ten Courts of Hell. Housed in a 60m-long trail built into the tail of a mythical dragon, it depicts in great detail the tortures that take place in Hell, with every stage representing each step of judgment before reincarnation.

Describing Haw Par Villa as a structure unrivalled in eccentricity and imagination, engineer Quek Seng Soon, 62, calls it "the quirkiest tourist spot you will ever find in Southeast Asia," giving it a firm spot in his top picks of definitive Singapore structures.

3. Lau Pa Sat

3. Lau Pa Sat

These days, it is dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers that pepper the Central Business District, but for more than 175 years, the "old market" of Singapore has held its own. Lau Pa Sat, known as the Telok Ayer Market until 1991, was first established in 1825, when it served as the country's first humble wet market.

Its distinctive octagonal design was conceptualised and added to the space by Irish architect George Drumgoole Coleman in 1836. This unique shape has endured despite several reconstructions. Remnants of the exquisite Victorian-era craftsmanship can still be seen in its archways, eaves and the intricate filigree patterns incorporated into the design.

In 1973, the market was converted into a hawker centre and was gazetted a national monument. In 1986, it was reconstructed once more and took the shape of the bustling food court it is today that draws both tourists and locals. "It is a market that has grown up with Singapore and will always have a special place in our hearts," says Chong Chun Keong, 38, an interior designer. The flavourful mix of old and new tastes also says something about the country, says Eileen Chan, 24, a marketing professional. In her view, "It is a good representation of Singapore as a melting pot."

4. Pinnacle@Duxton

Pinnacle@Duxton is possibly one of Singapore's most distinctive public housing projects and has redefined the city's skyline. Located where Tanjong Pagar's first two HDB blocks once stood, the towering 50-storey flats house 1,848 flats across seven blocks. The architectural design of Pinnacle@Duxton is Modernist and addresses pragmatic public housing concerns of security, ease of maintenance and cost-effectiveness.

The development's blocks are connected by two skybridges and boast two of the world's longest sky gardens. These span 500m each and sit on the 26th and 50th floors, offering panoramic views of Singapore. Nareen Ramchand, a 35-year-old restaurant manager, is one of those fortunate enough to secure a unit at this much sought-after housing project. Her gym routines have been replaced by twice-weekly jogs around the Sky Park. Despite having grown up in the eastern part of the island, she now cannot imagine living anywhere else.

"What is great about being here is that you're so central and the neighbourhood offers a nice mix of both old-world charm and modern comforts. So it is really unique," she said.

Pinnacle@Duxton has captivated global attention, with numerous international and local awards to its name, including the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Award, World Architecture Festival Award and the Steel Design Award in 2010, as well as the SIA Architecture Design Award in 2011. Architect Jonathan Poh describes it best: "It is the definitive apex of public housing achievements in Singapore," he says.

5. Civilian War Memorial

5. Civilian War Memorial

Singapore's Civilian War Memorial along Beach Road was built in 1967 in memory of the civilians massacred during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945. Remains of victims found in other parts of Singapore, including Siglap, Bukit Timah and Changi, were gathered and buried under the memorial.

The "chopsticks", as some refer to it, was designed by the late Leong Swee Lim from Swan & Maclaren Architects. It consists of four identical pillars each about 61m high. Each represents the members of Singapore's Chinese, Malay, Indian and minority communities who lost lives during the Occupation. Up to 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

"The Japanese Occupation was a time that shaped Singapore, a moment in Singapore's history… It prompts us to remember the lives that were lost," says David Woon, a 23-year old student. "These are Singapore's roots. I also like the fact that the four pillars are uniform in their proportions, reflecting the fundamental concept of equality in our multi-racial country,"


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