Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

DP Architects Pte Ltd

Four years after the opening of The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Mr Koh Seow Chuan and his team at DP Architects still feel a deep sense of satisfaction. "On the whole, we achieved what we set out to do - create a unique structure befitting the aspirations of Singapore and Singaporeans whilst still keeping it eminently usable and functional. In doing so, we think we also made a significant contribution to the dialogue on design on the Asian cultural and climatic context."

Seow Chuan elaborates, "Historically, Asian cultures have designed their more significant buildings in rational response to their geographic, climatic and cultural context and they built them with the best technology available. Where possible and appropriate, new architectural vocabularies were evolved. Right up to the colonial period, this process of evolution kept the traditions alive and vital. We feel that we have followed in this tradition."

"The project is located on a site with two prime characteristics as a significant civic building in the civic district and as a prime waterfront site. Rather than resorting to a populist display of "ethnic featurism" we responded to these characteristics and to its general urban context and by so doing, we feel we have affirmed the vitality of the living culture. We believe the design represents a compelling contribution towards defining a new Asian architecture."

The two shells with their spirit of lightness, change and new experience, glow with light in the evening and are juxtaposed against the more solid appearance of the base of the building. By day, the monument stands proudly against the skyline, clad in granite in warm earth tones, which acts as a counterfoil representing the solid base and foundation of long traditions.

Seow Chuan smiles when he hears Singaporeans refer to the Esplanade as the "durian". "The name is very endearing as most Singaporeans enjoy eating durians and the use of the term suggests that Singaporeans have embraced the project."

The veteran architect who started his professional practice in 1963 counts Frank Lloyd Wright as a defining influence. "Wright was influenced by the Chinese Philospher Lao Tse who postulated that a building is defined not by its roof and its four walls, but the space that they envelope. This definition opens up many ways of viewing a building, and we are all intrigued by the way he plans and designs his building spaces outside which are brought inside and spaces inside that are brought outside."

Seow Chuan credits team work and team spirit for the success of the project. Although the international architectural competition was won by DP Architects Pte Ltd in collaboration with Michael Wilford & Partners, the British partners left the project after 2 years in the hands of Seow Chuan and his team which consisted of Vikas Gore, Gan Eng Oon, Steven Gan Hooi Wan and Cheang Mei Ling.

"An architect can play a major role in serving society and community. The spaces that an architect creates for his client within and between buildings can inspire one's spirit. Nearly every architect has the ambition to create well-designed buildings. In DP Architects, all architects and supporting staff are mentored to create buildings that uplift the human spirit."


DP Architects Pte Ltd (1992-02)
Koh Seow Chuan (Team Leader, 1992-02)
Gan Eng Oon (1996-99)
Vikas Gore (Project Director, 1995-02)
Steven Gan (1995-02)
Cheang Mei Ling (1995-02)
Ti Lian Seng (1993-94)
Chin Thoe Chong (1993-94)
Michael Wilford (Team Leader, 1992-95)
Russell Bevington (1992-95)
David Turnbull (1993-95)
Michael Wilford & Partners (1992-95)

Ministry of Information Communications and the Arts

The Esplanade Company Limited

Theatre Project Consultants, UK

Artec Consultants Inc., New York

Johannes Klais Orgelbau GmbH & Co KG

Public Works Department (now CPG Consultants Pte Ltd)

Public Works Department (now CPG Consultants Pte Ltd)

Gan Eng Oon
Lydia Fong (Concert Hall)
Kwan Moh Yin (Lyric Theatre)
DP Design Pte Ltd

ACLA Pte Ltd

Atelier One, London

Atelier Ten Consulting Engineers, London

Bo Steiber Lighting Design Consultancy

Penta Ocean Construction Pte Ltd

Mero Systeme GmbH & Co

‘‘Recognize your strengths and weaknesses - develop your strengths and take steps to overcome or reduce your weaknesses. Form your dream on where you want to go as an architect and map out a plan or "design" to achieve this dream. Stay focused and learn from your mistakes or failures. Remember nothing beats perseverance and hard work.’’

Insights from the Recipient

What were the main challenges you faced when you were working on the design, and how did you resolve them?

Koh Seow Chuan: The Esplanade was built in the heart of an Asian city evolving into cultural nerve centre for the region. The design responds to this urban setting. We tried to reconcile the inherent contradictions between three elements: the magnificent views, the hot sun, and the efficiency in air-conditioning. The solution we evolved uses glass shells around the foyers of the two major performing venues shaded by a unique system of sunshades. The sunshades are arranged on an organic mesh pattern that evokes the geometry in nature as well as in Asian traditions of craft and art.


‘‘Recognize your strengths and weaknesses - develop your strengths and take steps to overcome or reduce your weaknesses. Form your dream on where you want to go as an architect and map out a plan or "design" to achieve this dream. Stay focused and learn from your mistakes or failures. Remember nothing beats perseverance and hard work.’’

Jury Citation

The Esplanade Theatres rise up to the urban design challenge of creating a 360º building with no true rear or backyard, fully addressing the waterfront and the surrounding developments in the Marina Bay area and the Civic District. The Jury commends the Esplanade’s exemplary provision of public spaces to encourage vibrant activities, technical dexterity and its seamless transition from the outside to inside. With its distinctive roof, the Esplanade Theatres emerge from the foreground of Marina Bay as a contemporary icon, anchoring the northwest corner of the waterfront with a sweeping view of the bay. It has also placed a high value on achieving superb acoustic performance. The Esplanade Theatres have grown to become a talking point for Singaporeans and visitors alike and is one of the most recognisable icons representing Singapore.


Nominator Citation



As Singapore rapidly re-makes itself to thrive in the competitive knowledge-based global environment, our globalized city-state needs to furnish impetus to the Renaissance of the Arts and Culture in order for us to stay current, relevant and attractive as an ecosystem for the various capitals such as financial, intellectual, technological, scientific, artistic, creative and cultural attributes.

In conjunction with our new Strategic Vision of Singapore as a vibrant City-state, URA's plan to build a city to last and programmes akin to this Award to re-vitalize and sustain the Architecture and Urban Design profession in Singapore, our community needs to judiciously present to the national and international communities, an identifiable icon to symbolize this vision. Fortunately, with the foresight of the government, we are blessed with many deserving candidates. From the cohort of possibilities one that definitely comes to our people's and visitor's mind and heart is the Esplanade.

Architecturally, the creative re-interpretation of the important element of all edifices - the roof crowning element of the Esplanade - is a most innovative resolution of art, science and technology, computing science, environmental consideration, culture and heritage resulting in a truly new tropical Asian contemporary canopy - a unique solution decorous to the context.

With regards to Urban Design, this national landmark pays respect and sets up a sophisticated dialogue with all the other national Civic monuments such as the Padang, the Victoria Memorial Hall (Former Town Hall), the former Supreme Court and the City Hall.

Technologically, with the aid of advanced computing science and innovative use of structural design, modern glazing technology and metallic sun-shading the roof element and the elevations has been morphed into an envelope best described as a mesh, akin to the traditions of weaving thoroughly Asia.This hovering canopy addresses and mitigates the hot and humid climate superbly and yet provides views both into and from the complex.

On the social dimension, the architect has endeavoured to ensure that the complex is porous and open to the public throughout the day, even when the theatres are closed. This is a significant departure from most theatres in the world. The broadening of the embankment also gives a dynamic waterfront experience to Marina Bay as this place resonates with the public.

Culturally, this architectural icon has accrued and has been endowed with multiple meanings by our people as well as the international community. It also embodies our aspiration to be a cultural capital of the world.