Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay



The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is an arts centre built on reclaimed land in the Marina Bay area. It features a 1,600-seat concert hall, a 2,000-seat theatre and other smaller performing arts venues. The Esplanade also contains art installation spaces, a library, retail units, restaurants and cafes.1

History
The idea for a performing arts centre was first mooted in 1975 by then Minister for Culture, Ong Teng Cheong. In 1989, the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts recommended the construction of this arts centre. By 1992, the Singapore Arts Centre Company (now The Esplanade Co Ltd) had been set up to manage the centre, and a master plan was formulated.2

In July 1994, the architectural schematics of the building were exhibited to the public for the first time. The name Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay was picked from more than 100 suggestions. The plans for the centre were unveiled by then Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, Brigadier-General (BG) George Yeo.3

The idea for an arts centre was warmly welcomed by various sectors of Singapore society. Calligrapher Pan Shou, for one, wrote a poem in Tang-style verse to express his hopes for the centre.4 The architects also took into account views from the arts community by holding dialogue sessions with various groups and trying to accommodate their concerns. For instance, seat arrangements and ideal audience sizes for traditional art forms, such as the Thai dance-drama khon and the Balinese kecak, were considered when planning the spaces.5

Nonetheless, the building design that BG Yeo unveiled drew some flak for being unattractive.6 Among some of the unflattering phrases used to describe it were “ugly concrete blob” and “marshmallow blobs”.7 The building was jointly designed by DP Architects from Singapore and Michael Wilford and Partners from the United Kingdom, while Theatre Project Consultants handled the design of the theatre.8 Criticisms of the building’s aesthetics abated after its opening and since then, locals often refer to it as “The Durian”, after a popular fruit in Singapore.9

The Esplanade’s ground-breaking ceremony was officiated by then Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan on 11 August 1996. The S$513.3 million project was scheduled to be ready by 2001 with a majority of facilities completed.10 Construction was fully financed by Singapore Pools and Singapore Totalisator Board.11 The Concert Hall was inaugurated on 11 October 2002 by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), which had made the Esplanade its new performing home.12

Facilities
The Esplanade’s two main performing arts venues are the Concert Hall and the Theatre. The hall seats 1,600 people, and has an acoustic system designed by prominent American acoustician Russell Johnson.13 An acoustic canopy hangs above the stage and can be lowered to ensure top acoustics for smaller audiences.14 The theatre follows the traditional horseshoe shape of European opera houses and seats 2,000. The four-level theatre also features Singapore’s largest stage.

The Recital Studio and Theatre Studio are two smaller performing spaces, seating 250 and 220 people respectively. In addition, the Esplanade offers outdoor performing venues, an exhibition gallery and a rehearsal studio. Also housed here is Singapore’s first performing arts library – library@esplanade. A mall within the Esplanade houses retail, lifestyle, and food and beverage outlets.15

Impact on local arts scene
A 23-day performing arts festival marked the opening of the Esplanade in October 2002.16 More than 1,300 performers from 22 countries took part.17 Then President S. R. Nathan officially opened the centre on 12 October 2002 with a display of fireworks.18 As early as five years before completion, the Esplanade had already set up a public website to drum up interest.19 The 73 ticketed and 600 free performances held during the festival were attended by more than one million visitors.20


Bearing in mind the human resource requirements of the Esplanade, overseas scholarships valued between S$40,000 and S$50,000 were awarded by the Singapore Arts Centre Co Ltd.21 With the opening of the centre, more Singaporeans began to consider arts and arts administration jobs as viable economic opportunities. The 1990s saw some professionals leaving high paying positions for administrative jobs with small arts groups.22

There were some concerns that the Esplanade would be unable to sustain public interest.23 However, since its opening, it has regularly provided performing arts space for more than 22 million patrons and 84 million visitors in over 31,000 events.24 Tribute.sg, an online repository featuring 150 important figures in Singapore’s arts scene, was launched during the Esplanade’s 10th anniversary celebration on 12 October 2012.25

In March 2014, the Esplanade’s Concert Hall was listed as one of the “World’s 15 Most Beautiful Concert Halls” by Hamburg-based building data company, Emporis. In May 2015, it was chosen as one of SG Heart Map’s “50 Special Places”.26



Author

Faizah bte Zakaria



References
1. Opening day, 12 October 2002, Esplanade theatres on the bay, Singapore. (2002) Singapore: Esplanade Co Ltd, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 790.2095957 OPE)
2. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2013). Singapore: The Esplanade Co Ltd. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 ESP); Tsang, S. (1996, August 12). 20-year arts dream turns into reality. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). Our Journey. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/about-us/our-journey
3. Tan, H. Y. (1994, July 22). Design for world-class arts centre unveiled. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. A gift in verse for new arts centre. (1995, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Phan, M. Y. (1994, December 23). Challenge of designing natural setting in a theatre. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan H. Y. (1994, August 4). A different look when ready. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Arts centre design is an ugly concrete blob. (1994, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Opening day, 12 October 2002, Esplanade theatres on the bay, Singapore. (2002) Singapore: Esplanade Co Ltd, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 790.2095957 OPE)
9. The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). Architecture & Building Design. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/about-us/architecture-and-building-design
10. Tsang, S. (1996, August 12). 20-year arts dream turns into reality. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2013). Singapore: The Esplanade Co Ltd. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 ESP)
12. Tan, S. E. (2002, October 5). Big change for SSO at new home. (2002, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Opening day, 12 October 2002, Esplanade theatres on the bay, Singapore. (2002) Singapore: Esplanade Co Ltd, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 790.2095957 OPE)
14. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2013). Singapore: The Esplanade Co Ltd. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 ESP)
15. Opening day, 12 October 2002, Esplanade theatres on the bay, Singapore. (2002) Singapore: Esplanade Co Ltd, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 790.2095957 OPE)
16. Chen, T. (2004, March 26). Heart of the arts. Today, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). Our Journey. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/about-us/our-journey
18. Tan, S. E. (2002, October 13). It’s showtime at the Esplanade. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tsang, S. (1996, April 3). Arts centre woos audiences five years before completion. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). Our Journey. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/about-us/our-journey; Chen, T. (2004, March 26). Heart of the arts. Today, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Phan, M. Y. (1994, December 5). Performing arts centre will need 110-strong staff in 2001. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tsang, S. (1996, February 9). Professionals taking up jobs as arts administrators. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ong, S. F. (2002, November 5). The thorny issue: What now? The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). About Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/corporate-information/about
25. Chia, A. (2012, July 12). Top talents for Esplanade celebrations. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016). About Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Retrieved from The Esplanade Co Ltd website: https://www.esplanade.com/corporate-information/about



The information in this article is valid as at 7 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Art centers--Singapore
Public buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Centers for the performing arts--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Public Buildings