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Moshe Safdie On Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore’s Latest Architectural Wonder

“There’s a difference between a 10-minute ‘wow’ and a long-lived ‘wow’,” says Moshe Safdie, as he takes us on a tour of the mystical indoor garden of Jewel Changi Airport. We hear more from him and his team.

  • Moshe Safdie at Jewel. Photo by Asih Jenie

  • View of the Shiseido Forest Valley and the HSBC Rain Vortex from the South Viewing Deck

  • The bamboo valley (left) and the hedge maze (right)

  • Night View of the Crystal Clouds art installation

  • Photo by Asih Jenie

  • Topiary Walk at Canopy Park

BY Asih Jenie

17 April, 2019

Jewel Changi Airport officially opens to the public today after an intense six-day ticketed preview period. With a 40-metre-tall waterfall, five-tier garden, and a slew of attractions that include walking and bouncing net, giant slides, and hedge maze, and hundreds of curated local and international retails, it has become Singapore’s latest obsession.

Images of its waterfall (christened the HSBC Rain Vortex) have dominated social media channels this week, and soon those images would rival that of the Merlion and MBS as the iconic image of Singapore. 

Encased in a toroid glass dome weighing more than 6,000 tonnes, Jewel Changi Airport is a labour of love of Changi Airport Group and CapitaLand. The 137,500-sqm retail and leisure destination is designed by Safdie Architects in collaboration with a crop of best-in-fields architecture and design consultants, which include RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, Benoy, landscape consultants PWP Landscape Architecture and ICN Design International, environmental design consultant Atelier Ten, and lighting designer Lighting Planner Associates, just to name a few. 

Last Thursday, Changi Airport invited select publications for an insightful tour guided by Safdie Architects founder Moshe Safdie himself. 

There is plenty to unpack on this architectural wonder, which we will present to you in the upcoming issue of Cubes in July.

In the meantime, here are some tidbits about Jewel Changi Airport straight from the architect and his team. 



On arriving at the mystical garden concept during Jewel Changi Airport’s brainstorming sessions:

“The obvious ideas started flying: dinosaurs, mummies, aquarium – thematic kind of attractions. As the architects in the room, we thought that these are likely to be limited in time in terms of their viability. Once you see them, why will you come back?”  

“We felt that the attraction should be timeless and should attract people of every age and income. And that led me to think of some kind of a great paradise, a mystical garden, as something that would be appropriate for an airport. A place of serenity and repose and nature.” 

Moshe Safdie


View of the Shiseido Forest Valley and the HSBC Rain Vortex from Changi Airport Terminal 1


On the shape of Jewel Changi Airport’s glass dome:

“We needed some kind of a big spun glass roof over the whole thing, and the first thing you think about was a big elliptical dome, but we wanted to do something a little more exciting, so we made it in the shape of a doughnut, a toroid. As the dome gets to its peak, it comes down on itself.  The rain comes into the building through the vortex as a waterfall. It really contributes to the sense of a mystical garden.”

“[If] the oculus was in the middle of the building that would have meant that, since the train line is running the centre line of the building, every three minutes the train would come through the waterfall. So we had to shift the toroid off-centre. That was a geometric nightmare, but it also I think made it so much more beautiful and it created a tension in the geometry.”

“There’s the difference between the ten-minute ‘wow’ and the long-lived ‘wow’.”

Moshe Safdie


View of the Shiseido Forest Valley and the HSBC Rain Vortex from the South Viewing Deck


On the 40-metre tall indoor waterfall:

“If the water hit the main valley floor, we would all be wet now, but we took that problem and made it into one of the big features of the building. The water, when comes down to the entry level, goes into a two-story, ten-metre deep acrylic funnel, and that actually buffers the whole splash.” 

“We get the mist, which we like because it helps the climate and the air conditioning. And then if you will go down and walk around the funnel, it’s a sensational experience because all that power of water is right in front of your nose, but you can’t hear it, because it’s absolutely soundproof. So you’re sitting there mesmerized and having a coffee, while daylight streaming into the two retail levels.”

Moshe Safdie


Photo by Asih Jenie


On some of the biggest challenges in the project:

“Getting that balance between a building that is climatically comfortable for both the trees and people, within the standards of sustainability and Greenmark, was the biggest challenge by far.”

“It was also a challenge to convince the commercial people not to allow the commercial side of the project and the branding to intrude into the garden.”

“It would have been more efficient to have more height, but we had to stay – to use a pun – below the radar, which actually means literally below the radar of the tower, and that limited us to 37.5 metres above street level.”

Moshe Safdie


Manulife Nets at Canopy Park


On Jewel’s energy performance and optimisation:

“The cooling systems for the project is a displacement cooling system similar to that of Gardens by the Bay’s. We worked with Atelier Ten, who was the genius team who worked in Gardens by the Bay, and probably the most forward- thinking on energy optimisation in the world. But we took it to the next level.”

“We’re harvesting rainwater through the rain vortex. And the steel structure of the glass roof works as a great shading system. The mandatory depth and the span of this structural feat, are actually creating amazing shade.”

Jaron Lubin, Principal, Safdie Architects


“The rules and regulations are there for a good reason, they’re keeping everybody safe. What happened was, as the project progressed, we’d gotten better at answering the problems and finding new, more efficient and more effective ways to solve the problems.”

“We’ve taken measures where we could to replace the energy that is lost, whether it’s because of the skytrain or the oculus. For instance, we put PV panels on our bus shelter on the east side.” 

Charu Kokate, Principal, Safdie Architects


“I think this building has had more reviews per square metre than any other buildings in the world.”

Moshe Safdie


Discovery Slides at Canopy Park


On witnessing people appreciating Jewel:

“I’m surprised and pleased by their expressions. I’m also pleased by the great variety of people out there today. Particularly the kids – a little ballerina girl dancing right by the waterfall, a couple of kids in the bamboo garden. They’re all just exploring and be curious and it was very nice.”

Moshe Safdie


Photo by Asih Jenie


Look out for an in-depth review of Jewel Changi Airport in Cubes 96, out in July!
Photos courtesy of Jewel Changi Airport, unless otherwise stated. 

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