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10 famous buildings in Singapore

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10 famous buildings in Singapore
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Written by Forrest Brown, CNN

Whether you’re a student of architecture or a casual admirer of interesting buildings, Singapore is an observational hothouse (to go along with its tropical climate).

The city-state’s buildings represent an enchanting mix of Asian, British colonial and modern global influences.

“Singapore has its fair share of iconic buildings, especially (those built) in the ’90s and 2000s, that have contributed to a skyline that is distinctive from other Asian cities,” said Chong Keng Hua, associate professor of architecture and sustainable design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

“It’s never straightforward to label Singapore architecture under a specific style … If there are consistent creative forces underlying its evolution, these would be our response to our tropical climate and space constraints.”

Sustainability is another theme showing up in the mix, Chong said.

“The juxtaposition of futuristic, high-rise green buildings with post-independence (after 1965) modern complexes and older colonial buildings and shophouses gives Singapore’s urban landscape a unique identity and experience,” he added.

Here are 10 of Singapore’s most famous buildings, representing its past, present and future.

Raffles Hotel

Opened: Opened in 1887 (as a 10-room bungalow)
Architect: Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & Maclaren (main building, 1899)
Use: Hotel

The grande dame of famous Singapore buildings has somewhat modest beginnings.

In the late 1880s, the Armenian Sarkies brothers leased a bungalow owned by an Arab trader. They named it after British colonizer Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and started out with just 10 rooms for their guests. It didn’t stay modest for long.

From the opening a new three-story main building in 1899 to a huge overhaul in 2019 (and numerous makeovers in between), Raffles Hotel has become the signature example of colonial architecture in Singapore. Its white exterior and neo-Renaissance design includes tropical necessities such as high ceilings and extensive verandas.
“Raffles Hotel is well-known for its history and luxurious ambience,” Chong said. “Fun fact: This is also where the famous cocktail Singapore Sling was invented.”

Jewel at Changi Airport

Inside Singapore’s new Jewel Changi Airport

Opened: 2019
Architect: Moshe Safdie
Use: Entertainment and retail complex

We go from an old-school colonial classic to the newest building on the list: Jewel at Changi Airport.

From the fertile mind of architect Moshe Safdie, the building is impressive both inside and out. The exterior takes the form of a dramatic doughnut shape framed in glass and steel. The interior, meanwhile, nods to nature with a hedge maze, glass-bottomed canopy bridge and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, known as the Rain Vortex.

Also found inside the 10-story building (five below ground, five above) are entertainment venues, shops, restaurants, a hotel and services for airline passengers, such as early check-in, baggage storage and connections to three of the airport’s terminals.

“Jewel has redefined airport, retail and public space all at once,” Chong said. “It creates a huge impact in making Changi Airport the most recognizable — and probably the most Instagrammable — airport in the world.”

Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay

The Esplanade also has a nickname derived from a popular fruit in these parts. Credit: Shutterstock

Opened: 2002
Architect: DP Architects and Michael Wilford & Partners
Use: Entertainment complex

You might know Esplanade by its informal name: “The Durian.” That’s because the theater’s twin glass domes — made from more than 7,000 triangular aluminum sunshades — bear a striking resemblance to two halves of a durian, a strong-smelling fruit popular in the region.

Chong says the building’s signature spiky facade wasn’t part of the original design.

“It was initially conceived as two glass shells without shading, which drew much criticism for its insensitivity to the tropical climate, as it would create a greenhouse effect.” Thus, the iconic shades.

The building may be famous, but that doesn’t mean the design is universally loved. Since opening in 2002, Esplanade has been given various other nicknames, some not so flattering. Beloved or berated, however, it’s an undeniable part of Singapore’s urban identity.

Marina Bay Sands

Diving into the dawn with Moshe Safdie

Opened: 2010
Architect: Moshe Safdie
Use: Hotel, casino and mall

Marina Bay Sands is another notable Singapore project from architect Moshe Safdie. The hotel has become a signature part of the city’s skyline, immediately identified by its three towers and cantilevered sky garden, which hosts the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool (check out the video above to see what it’s like to swim there).

“To me, this is more of an urban project than an architectural project, as it has transformed both the waterfront and downtown skyline,” Chong said.

National Gallery Singapore

Opened: 2015
Architect: StudioMilou and CPG Consultants
Use: Art museum

The National Gallery is a microcosm of what the city-state does best — blend the old with the new. In this case, the City Hall and Supreme Court buildings have been transformed into Singapore’s premiere art museum.

The neo-classical City Hall first opened its doors in 1929, and the Supreme Court building came along a decade later. Significant parts of the structures were preserved — including the chamber where the Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of World War II — so visitors can take in their historical significance as they explore an impressive collection of Southeast Asian art.

Chong said “the result is simple yet elegant.”

Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple is an important Hindu landmark in Singapore. Credit: Shutterstock

Opened: 1827 (then known as Mariamman Kovil or Kling Chapel)
Use: Place of worship

No list of Singapore buildings is complete without representation from the myriad religions that have found a foothold here.

Chief among them is the ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore (and the oldest building in this list).
Although first opened in 1827, much of the present structure dating back to the 1860s. It was built by craftsmen from South India and is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, who is known for her curative powers.

One of the building’s most outstanding architectural features is its “gopuram” (entrance tower). The highly ornamented tower, festooned with colorful figures, is a well-known landmark in Singapore’s Chinatown.

CHIJMES

CHIJMES has gone from religious to secular uses. Credit: Shutterstock

Opened: 1840-41
Architect: George Drumgoole Coleman
Use: Dining and nightlife venue

As is the case with many older structures, the purpose of CHIJMES — which is pronounced “chimes” — has evolved over time.

The oldest building in the complex is Caldwell House, which later became a Catholic convent for girls (the name CHIJMES relates to its name, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School). It is now a peaceful oasis by day and a bustling entertainment center at night.

But the standout structure is the complex’s Gothic chapel, which features a five-story spire and flying buttresses. The structure’s 648 columns feature carvings of tropical plants and birds, while inside, a dazzling white chapel can be reserved for weddings. Along with other entries on this list, you may have seen this building in the 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Fullerton Hotel Singapore

The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is located in another classic building from the colonial period. Credit: Shutterstock

Opened: 1928 (as site of Singapore’s General Post Office)
Architect: Major Percy Hubert Keys and Frank Dowdeswell
Use: Hotel

Here’s another impressive example of Singapore renovating old buildings. What is now the site of a luxury hotel was once a fort named after Robert Fullerton, the first governor of the Straits Settlements (a group of British territories). Fort Fullerton was torn down in the late 1870s and replaced with the Exchange Building. It, too, is gone.

The Exchange was replaced by the Fullerton Building in 1928, which served as the General Post Office. Myriad other uses followed, including its upper floors providing a home for the exclusive Singapore Club.

The stunning gray granite neoclassical building wasn’t used as a hotel until 2001, before which it sat empty for years.

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall is another example of Singapore’s blending of old and new. Credit: Shutterstock

Opened: 1862 (theater building) and 1905 (concert hall building)
Architect: John Bennett (theater building) and Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan & Maclaren (concert hall building)
Current use: Theater and concert hall

Set in the Civic District, the neoclassical Victoria Theatre (614 seats) and Concert Hall (673 seats) are among the most illustrious venues in Singapore, and the building is notable for its iconic clock tower.
The theater started out as the Town Hall and was one of the first buildings of Singapore’s Victorian Revivalism era. The concert hall, meanwhile, began life as the Victoria Memorial Hall in 1905, named after the British monarch who had died less than five years prior.

Back in 2010, this national monument was closed for a four-year, $158 million Singapore ($116 million) makeover to restore its neoclassical facade and to install state-of-the art facilities, according to the theater. It reopened with a big splash in 2014.

The Interlace

The Interlace is a good example of Singpore’s status as a cutting-edge spot for urban housing. Credit: Shutterstock

Completed: 2013
Architect: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Buro Ole Scheeren
Use: Apartments

Arranged around eight courtyards, The Interlace is a distinctive residential complex formed of 31 stacked apartment blocks

Speaking to CNN in 2016, when the structure was named World Building of the Year, one of the architects involved in the project, Eric Chang, said: “Our main thought was how to conceptualize something that’s more of a vertical village than really a building for housing.”

5 bonus buildings

The Pinnacle@Duxton is a public housing estate in the Tanjong Pagar district of Singapore.

The [email protected] is a public housing estate in the Tanjong Pagar district of Singapore. Credit: Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Pinnacle @Duxton: This 50-story tower is the leading example of Singapore’s groundbreaking approach to residential structures, according to Chong, who noted that “the unique architectural design was a result of worldwide competition that attracted more than 200 entries.”
  • Kampung Admiralty: Completed in 2017, the housing complex for senior citizens features a medical facility, pharmacy, community garden and more. It was named 2018’s World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. This project “signifies a global shift from iconic architecture to one that is responsible and socially meaningful,” Chong said.
  • Robinson Tower: More trees, please. This eco-friendly building in the Central Business District aims to create the “sustainable urbanism” that has become one of Singapore’s calling cards. The tower’s gravity-defying upper section appears to float above a verdant garden terrace.
The Golden Mile Complex (forefront right) The Golden Mile Tower stand along the Nicoll Highway in front of other buildings in Singapore.

The Golden Mile Complex (forefront right) The Golden Mile Tower stand along the Nicoll Highway in front of other buildings in Singapore. Credit: Darren Soh/Bloomberg/Getty Images

  • Golden Mile Complex: Resembling a typewriter, this building is “probably the most daring mixed-use architectural design in 1970s,” Chong said, adding: “The dramatically terraced Brutalist building was originally imagined to be a prototype of an urban form, which could have been the blueprint for the entire tropical city.”
  • Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum: Opened in 2007, this five-story temple is a great place to experience the influence of Buddhist culture in Singapore. The building, located in Chinatown, reflects the architectural style of China’s Tang dynasty.

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Meet Afghanistan’s only female tour guide

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Meet Afghanistan's only female tour guide
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(CNN) — For many people who work as tour guides, showing people around a new city involves a little bit of getting off the beaten track. But when there is no track at all, you just have to blaze one yourself.

That has been the story of Fatima, the only woman working as a tour guide in Afghanistan. The 22-year-old (who asked that CNN not use her surname for safety reasons) grew up leading sheep through the countryside, and now she leads tourists through the streets of Herat, the third-largest city in Afghanistan.

The making of a trailblazer

The youngest of eight children, Fatima is the only one of her siblings to be unmarried and to have gotten an education.

She grew up in rural Gohr Province, where she says there was no schooling available to girls, but she convinced her family to let her take lessons if she brought in enough of an income from sheep herding.

When Fatima was nine, her family settled in Herat. Though she was able to get some informal education, she mostly stayed at home helping her mother. Getting an education wasn’t as simple as just enrolling in the local comprehensive.

When Fatima couldn’t afford notebooks, she says she wrote with a stick in the sand. She practiced her English by listening to BBC radio, which she could pick up when high enough in the hills.

Unlike some kids, Fatima didn’t grow up dreaming of working in tourism — not only was it not traditional for women to work, she says she didn’t even know that giving tours was a job.

“I thought a lot during these years, how sitting at home would not solve any problem,” she says. “My brothers and sisters were forced to get married. It was so sad for me. I decided that I would not continue in their tradition. That was how I decided to work.”

First step: work on her English. Fatima signed up for Facebook and began joining groups for people interested in history. Tired of people who only knew Afghanistan as a place of war and conflict, she says she started writing regular posts about places in her country that foreigners might not know about.

Herat is in northwestern Afghanistan, not far from the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan and has been inhabited since the fifth century BCE, making it an interesting place for a history buff to grow up.

After she began writing her posts, everything changed.

Fatima says started getting comments and responses from her new online friends. In 2020, one of them — a man known as “Big Tom” — reached out to her saying he was going to be traveling in Afghanistan and would she be interested in showing him around in Herat?

She said yes. They went to the Herat Citadel, to the National Museum and to a traditional tea house.

Tom recommended her to someone else, and Fatima continued to get work by word of mouth. Eventually she came to the attention of Untamed Borders, a boutique travel agency that specializes in trips to more inaccessible areas.

After meeting Fatima and traveling through the city with her, Tom recommended that the company hire her. And they did hire her in late 2020, which is how the young self-taught woman became her country’s first female professional tour guide.

“Having a female guide gives our guests a whole new perspective,” says James Willcox, Untamed Borders’ founder. “As well as being well informed as a guide, Fatima gives our guests a personal insight into her life as an Afghan woman. We try to give our guests a framework of information to give context to the experiences they have in Afghanistan, and Fatima adds to that in a big way.”

"In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters," says Fatima.

“In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters,” says Fatima.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

Fatima’s new career caused some friction in her traditional family at a time when her siblings were already challenging their father’s more conservative views.

She asserted her independence, telling her father: “Right now, my brothers and sisters [say] that if we are not satisfied in life it is because of you. If I have a bad life now, it’s because of me.”

Though he has come around to Fatima’s work, she says her mother has always given her blessing. “My mother is happy. She is supporting me. Right now, she is my everything.”

The rocky road smoothens out

Of course, being a pioneer is never easy.

Fatima says many people in her life, including some of her own family members, have told her that it’s too dangerous for a woman to work, especially if it means interacting with men one-on-one.

She says children have thrown stones at her while she’s guiding tourists through the local market. People have shouted profanities at her.

Sadly, these are not isolated experiences. According to data from the United Nations, only about 19% of women in Afghanistan are employed outside of the home.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more commonly known as UN Women, elucidates: “About 64%t of Afghans agree that women should be allowed to work outside the home, however, they still face a multitude of barriers, including restrictions, harassment, discrimination and violence, as well as practical hurdles such as a lack of job experience, employment skills and education.”

Fatima says that the support of her employers and the people she has met through giving tours are what keep her motivated. There’s also the implication of what could happen if she does quit: “Challenges are always a part of my life. If I give up, then other women will never start.”

To keep herself safe, she dresses modestly while on the job and never goes out with a group late at night.

Afghanistan’s tourism industry peaked in the relatively safe 1970s, with an average of 90,000 foreign tourists coming per year. Data is spotty and inconsistent, but in 2013 the country’s deputy minister of tourism told the New York Times that the number was closer to 15-20,000 per year.

Many countries, including the United States, have travel advisories in place and encourage their citizens not to visit Afghanistan.

However, choosing which countries to visit and how can make a significant difference on the ground. Tourism is an industry where not everyone is required to have a college degree, which can make the bar of entry lower and easier.

Fatima’s tour guide income helps to support her family, and it also means she can afford to go to college. After passing the entrance exams, Fatima says she’s been able to enroll at Herat University and is now studying journalism. On the side, she says she teaches English to 41 girls in a refugee school.

The education, she says, isn’t just for her. Fatima tutors her nieces and nephews in English and helps pay for some of their school fees and supplies. This is generational change in action — the sons and daughters of siblings who could not get an education are now going to government schools.

If travel, in its purest form, is about expanding our view of the world around us, this is certainly true for Fatima, even when she is the one showing people her homeland instead of visiting theirs.

She says she dreams of changing roles for a while and letting someone else guide her — her top choice for a travel destination, fitting for a lover of history and culture, is Tibet.

Most of Fatima’s dreams, though, are closer to home. She says she hopes to open a school to train tour guides. It would be open to both boys and girls, she says, but “ladies first,” as there are fewer job opportunities available to women.

“I am the first lady in Afghanistan to guide people,” she says, “but I do not want to be the last.”

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free
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The government postal agency is planning to send about 13.5 million postcards across the county, according to a news release. They are part of the “Write Here Wrote Now” campaign established by the Canada Post in September to encourage letter writing as a means of connection.

“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and overall well-being,” Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, said in a statement.

“Canada Post wants everyone to stay safe, but also stay in touch with the people who matter to them.”

There will be six different versions of the postcard, which will be randomly sent to each household. The messages on the cards will be ones of appreciation, love and thanks, according to the release. The cards can be sent anywhere for free in the country.

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Premium economy: Why this will be the hottest airplane seat in 2021

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(CNN) — Premium economy. The two words might seem a weird combination in airline terms, since it’s a rare airline where economy seats feel premium these days. But these seats between coach and business class on international flights were heating up even before Covid-19, and as we all start to travel again in 2021, they’re set to be a must-fly for many passengers.

Why? It’s a combination of factors.

First, the economic crisis means that business class travelers will be “trading down” to premium economy — whether that’s people flying for work whose travel policies are being tightened or upmarket leisure travelers who are feeling the pinch on their wallets but don’t fancy feeling it at their knees or elbows.

Second, frequent fliers will have miles to burn after a year of reduced traveling, and with those straitened travel policies that land business travelers in economy, we’ll likely see some of them upgrading themselves to the slightly better seats with their points. That’s alongside pent-up leisure travelers looking for a bit of a splurge, even in hard times.

Third comes the fact that, after more than a year of Covid-19, we’re just not psychologically used to being cheek-by-jowl with other people anymore. It’s going to feel very strange to think about doing that on a plane, so the extra space in premium economy will be welcome.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Courtesy Emirates

What is it?

But what is premium economy? Fundamentally, it’s a bigger seat, says Ben Orson, a designer responsible for many of the most successful seats of the past decade, and now managing director of Orson Associates.

“The most important part of what a premium economy seat offers the passenger is a significant upgrade in terms of comfort when compared to economy. Premium economy seating typically provides around 5 to 10 inches of additional leg room, a more generous recline with a leg rest and an enhanced entertainment experience with a much larger screen.”

Seats are also around two to three inches wider, and there are usually one to two seats fewer in each row: eight in a Boeing 777 or Airbus A380, for example, compared with 10 seats in most economy classes.

“This approach has paid off for airlines,” Orson says, “with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic saying that, per square foot, premium economy is the most profitable part of the plane.”

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Courtesy British Airways

Premium economy is found, metaphorically and on the actual aircraft, between the increasingly spacious and luxurious business classes and the increasingly less spacious and less luxurious economy classes.

Airbus calls this widening gap the “comfort canyon.”

Matt Round, chief creative officer at design studio Tangerine, explains that for airlines, it helps to fill this gap and that along with that larger seat comes some additional perks.

“Airlines tend to offer premium economy passengers access to more priority services such as free seat reservations, priority boarding and increased luggage allowance. The services that are offered vary according to the airline.”

Who flies it?

Passengers usually first approach premium economy from one of two directions: either upgrading from economy or downgrading from business.

“Pre-Covid-19, premium economy performed well for leisure passengers who wanted a slight treat or for cost-conscious large and small businesses,” Round explains. “On some routes, there was a tendency for passengers traveling on business to fly premium economy during the day and return on a fully flat bed in business class on the night flights.”

EVA Air's premium economy cabins were among the world's first.

EVA Air’s premium economy cabins were among the world’s first.

EVA Air

But, where business class seats have become more spacious and economy class seats have shrunk both in legroom and elbow room, how have premium economy seats changed since their introduction nearly 30 years ago aboard Virgin Atlantic and EVA Air?

“They haven’t, not really,” says Peter Tennent, director of design house Factorydesign.

“When we designed the first British Airways’ World Traveller Plus seat in 2000, the basis for the seat customization was an aging business class platform. These conventional, yet larger recliner seats were beginning to be superseded by enhanced business class offers, so there was a fairly obvious option to downgrade them from business to a reduced offer to sit between business and economy.”

Despite many advances in inflight entertainment and connectivity features such as on-demand inflight touchscreen entertainment, power sockets, WiFi internet and more, the basic seat hasn’t changed much, Tennent says.

“There have been many new premium economy seats, some bespoke, others derivatives of existing platforms, but all still following the same principle.”

What about the future?

Premium economy, says Martin Darbyshire, chief executive officer of Tangerine, is “a life saver for me as a business traveler who runs a privately owned company, and therefore cannot justify flying business class whenever I want.

“For a day flight, especially, premium economy is a comfortable way of flying with a reasonable quality of service. The smaller cabin is also a benefit, as it creates a more private space.”

Premium economy is also very popular with senior citizens on vacation, particularly because they can usually book early for lower fares.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

Chris Rank/Delta Air Lines

Business travelers, on the other hand, can find it expensive at the last minute, Darbyshire notes. That said, these passengers — especially if they’re also frequent fliers — are among the first to be upgraded into business class if the premium economy cabin is getting full.

Overall, says Orson, “premium economy will continue to be attractive to the very tall, the elderly, and anybody else for whom economy class presents too much of a physical challenge.”

But, looking forward, he muses, “could it be that the approach which launched premium economy in the first instance — a considered selection of those aspects of business class that really matter to passengers today, such as a more technologically informed approach to comfort, greater privacy, enhanced connectivity or a more distanced boarding experience — might be applied again to create a new way of traveling, perfectly tailored to the ever-evolving needs of our passengers of the future?”

Whatever the future looks like, Tennent from Factorydesign notes, “Aviation is a battleground for differentiation. If one airline can offer — or claim to — something better, different or novel compared to their competitors, it provides a commercial advantage.”

Top photo from Philippine Airlines. John Walton is an international transportation and aviation journalist based in France, specializing in airlines, commercial aircraft and the passenger experience.

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