A tropical oasis in the heart of Orchard Road, the Istana Park was officially opened on 6 September 1996. It is bounded by Orchard Road, Penang Road and Buyong Road. The 1.3 ha Istana Park is a landmark situated directly opposite the Istana, Singapore's presidential palace. The park was designed and built as an extension to the main entrance of the Istana. It offers a number of unique features not found in other parks in Singapore.
Plans to turn the area fronting the Istana entrance into a lush landscaped park marking the entrance to the Civic District were first unveiled to the public on 20 February 1992. Lee Yiok Seng, then Senior Parliamentary Secretary (National Development), unveiled this plan when he opened a public exhibition at Marina Square on that day. Teh Tion Yong, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)'s architectural head, revealed that two design proposals were being considered. The preferred design was a layout which focused on a central core, which would consist of a water feature surrounded by water and planting beds. Teh explained that the main reason for building a park in front of the Istana was to give "more prominence" to the Istana entrance.
By November 1993, design plans for the park were finalised. Landscape architectural consultant firm RM Ren Matsui Design drew up the concept and design for the park, while the Public Works Department (PWD) provided architectural and engineering design services. The park was estimated to cost S$13 million and occupy the size of about 1.5 football fields. Palms and plants indigenous to the region would be planted in the park, in order to blend in with the Istana entrance, which underwent a S$1.7 million improvement project in the early 1990s.
Work on the park was completed by late 1995. The park had its official opening on 6 September 1996 by National Development Minister Lim Hng Kiang. The park serves as a gateway to the Civic District, a historically significant area in the heart of the city. The 160 ha Civic District comprises important landmarks, civic, cultural and historical buildings, as well as public parks. Hence the park was designed to evoke a feeling of formality and grandeur, reflecting its position fronting Singapore's Istana.
The park has several unique features. Its identifying landmark is the Festival Arch centrepiece. This is a 26 m long, 16 m high concrete and stainless steel structure rising from a rectangular pool with slow, flowing water. The Festival Arch was designed by Mr. Ren Matsui. He conceived the idea for its structure by studying the gates of the Istana. The arch stands out prominently from its surrounding landscape, its gleaming structure a majestic sight to behold. Banners and flags fly from it during national events. The arch is symbolic of the park's situation as a gateway to the Civic District, as well as its proximity to the Istana.
Water is a major component of the park. At the base of the Festival Arch is a rectangular pool. This pool in a park is the first of its kind in Singapore. The pool is one-third the size of an Olympic pool with a water depth of 40 cm. It is called the "reflecting pool" as park users are able to see the reflection of the arch in the pool. Dwarf coconut palm trees are planted in specially designed plots within eight small Palm Pools. This makes the trees look like they are growing in the water. Thus, reinforcing the impression of a tropical oasis in the heart of Orchard Road.
More than 151 species of plants are grown in the park. The plants are sourced from Malaysia, Indonesia and around the region. It includes some unusual flora, such as the Elephant Fern,with fronds that can grow up to 3 m long. There are Foxtail Palm trees, from Queensland, Australia, with leaves arranged in a circular plume, resembling a fox's tail. Variegated Giant Reeds, a type of grass that has blades striped in different shades of green and yellow are also grown. In addition, there are palms such as the Fishtail Palm and Assai. There are also beds of colourful Heliconia and Anthurium, and assorted foliage plants. The eastern side of the park is a lush tropical garden with six different zones that showcase tropical plants. For instance, one zone is a water plant zone with its aquatic grasses and lilies.
The park is beautifully lit up at night. Lighting in the park was specially designed to illuminate the park's main features, especially the arch and the greenery. For instance, the Yellow Flame trees and coconut palms are lit from the ground so that their branch patterns stand out at night. The park's lighting design is also part of the URA's Civic District Lighting Plan which aims to give the district a distinct night identity.
The park is also a popular site for art and culture exhibitions, photography enthusiasts and wedding receptions. It is lighted daily from 7:00 pm - 12:00 am.
Warren, W. (2000). Singapore: City of gardens (pp. 52-53). Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.
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