Co.Design

Famous Architects Design Monuments to Vice in Virtuous Singapore

Michael Graves and Moshe Safdie try out sin-city indulgences in one of the most uptight places around.
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

After a 45-year ban on casinos, Singapore is getting back into the gambling business by rolling the dice on a couple starchitects. Their mission: Keep sin classy.

So we have one casino from Moshe Safdie, the Israeli-born Boston architect most famous for designing the cubist-like Habitat 67 housing complex in Montreal and another from Michael Graves, whom you might recall from his days making teakettles for Target and, to a lesser extent, his bad (really bad) '80s buildings.

What they're creating aren't just casinos; they're "resorts." They're costing billions to build, and they include all sorts of un-casino-like flourishes, from a marine-life park and a luxury hostelry, to high-art installations and, hilariously, jogging paths. All of which must go a long way toward keeping visitors amused and, moreover, convincing cane-wielding Singapore that gambling can masquerade as wholesome culture.


Of the two resorts, Safdie's Marina Bay Sands does a better -- or, at least, swankier-- job of that. Never mind that it looks like a giant ironing board. (Which is actually, we're told, a 2.5-acre "SkyPark" that "soars 170 meters above the sea" and has a public observatory, gardens, swimming pools, and the aforementioned jogging paths, because jogging on the roof of a casino is just like jogging in Central Park!) Safdie hand-selected five artists to produce some capital-A art. Here's a piece by the late great Sol LeWitt:

And here's an installation by the British artist Antony Gormley, the same guy who put freakishly life-like human sculptures on the edge of Manhattan high-rises, probably making at least a few tourists think they were witnessing an only-in-New-York suicide:

And from James Carpenter, we have this blue-finned facade:

Here's the entry to the Marina Bay Sands. Eat your heart out, Georgia O'Keefe!


Graves's Resorts World Sentosa feels much more like a theme park or a Potemkin Village, depending on whom you ask. It has loggias and fountains and cartoonish green copper roofs and gaming-room decor that Slate's Witold Rybczynski describes generously as "Matisse-meets-Star Wars." Oh, and there's a hotel named after Graves: Michael. In the words of the breathless press release, it is "a tribute to Graves' singular design genius." See the "singular design genius" below:


But like the fake sky at the Venetian, this is all just window-dressing to distract from the real business at hand: making gobs of money. With its foray into gaming, Singapore hopes to bolster its revenue from $12.8 billion last year to $30 billion by 2015, following the lead of Macau, which surpassed Vegas as the world's largest gambling mecca in 2006, Bloomberg writes. Singapore's casinos have already attracted more than 3 million visitors. (Graves's resort opened in February, Safdie's in April.) With the foot traffic comes the inevitable unsavory behavior. Already, there are reports in this dollhouse-safe city of scams, embezzlement, and identity theft. One cashier stole $10,000 from Resorts World and gambled it away; three Europeans were charged with cheating at roulette. And so on. We wonder: Did Safdie and Graves include caning rooms?

[Marina Bay Sands images courtesy of Safdie Architects; Resorts World Sentosa images courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates]

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