If you’re curious how a backwater trading post blossoms into a high-tech metropolis of more than 5 million people, you can get some insights at the URA Gallery. With so many people in so little space, every detail of Singapore’s growth needs to be carefully planned and the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) are the people who do it.
The URA Centre is a large government complex behind Maxwell Food Centre and you walk in to flashy video presentations and displays of Singapore’s latest achievements like Marina Bay Sands to impress passers-through.
To get to the main gallery, also known as the Singapore City Gallery, take the escalator to the second level.The gallery has more than 50 exhibits covering all aspects of Singapore’s growth, from public housing to planning the MRT network. It might sound a bit dull, but the exhibits are surprisingly interactive with lots of video, audio, and computer simulations.
One of my favourites modelled Singapore’s physical expansion; land reclamation grew the island from 581 km² in the 1960s to its current size of 710 km² — Raffles Hotel used to be on the beach! Another interesting fact I picked up here is that only 15% of Singapore’s land is for residential use; the other 85% is set aside for commerce, industry, military bases, and parks. No wonder Singapore’s public housing estates are so crowded.
One exhibit not to be missed is the miniature model of downtown Singapore with impeccable detail, right down to the outdoor pools at the hotels along Orchard Road. There’s a similar model of the whole island on the ground floor. It’s not nearly as detailed, but I did manage to find my apartment.
As you leave the gallery don’t miss their collection of complimentary brochures – they’re not the usual tourist pamphlets but guides for architectural walks through heritage neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Kampong Glam.
The URA Gallery is around a 10-minute walk from the Outram Park SMRT station and likewise around 10 minutes from Chinatown SMRT, but can easily be incorporated into a visit to Chinatown as it’s beside the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre. Aspiring city planners and architects could spend hours here, but for most visitors 30 – 60 minutes should be enough. Those with an interest in design should also take a walk down the road to the Red Dot Design Museum which is just five minutes away on foot down Maxwell Road.
Admission is completely free, though you’ll need to sign in with your name and country.
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