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Punggol Promenade: A Present from the Past

Azzah originally wrote this pictorial essay on Punggol Promenade for the class “History and Theory of Landscape Architecture” as a student at the National University of Singapore. At the start of the class, students each shared a piece of landscape that they liked; they then reflected on this after a semester of learning.

 
Initial Thoughts
Figure 1: View of Punggol Promenade, Riverside Walk (Azzah Atifah, 2021)

What piece of landscape are you particularly interested in? Without hesitation, I thought about Punggol Promenade. The 4.9km promenade is a rustic coastal area, designed to support sea sports and other recreational activities (URA, 2017). Located at the edge of Singapore, it allows users to stroll along the waterfront and admire spectacular panoramic views of the sea.


I chose Punggol Promenade as it consists of a relaxing trail to escape from Singapore’s fast-paced urban lifestyle. Growing up along the coast, I have an appreciation for naturalistic parks which evoke a sense of peace and serenity. Overtime, I believe that strolling through nature parks is a good strategy to refresh the mind and reconnect with nature; the chirping of birds, smelling whiffs of fragrant plants and enjoying the cold breeze, creates a memorable experience for me. At times, I question myself, “Why do I hold such a deep connection with Punggol Promenade? Perhaps it could be the spaces, or ambience, or the people?” I was curious to find out the key factors that inspire and shape my rewarding experience of Punggol Promenade.

(Left to Right) Figure 2: Enjoying the experience. Figure 3: View of meandering pathway (Azzah Atifah, 2021)
Healthscape

Upon arrival, as I cycled along the designated cycling path, I was most drawn to the diverse species of vegetation in the landscape

Figure 4: Entrance with colourful softscape palette (Azzah Atifah, 2022)

Healthscape involves the relationship between nature and health. Research has shown that users generally feel more positive and less tired while walking or cycling in natural environments in comparison to man-made environments. (Bowlet et al., 2010) In addition, absorbing sounds and sights of nature can make one feel at peace and release mental & physical tension. (Collado, 2017) These statements demonstrate that carrying out activities outdoors creates an engaging journey for users to enjoy, and thus promotes stress relief. Throughout my journey, while walking along Punggol Promenade, I felt a sense of comfort and tranquility. The calm sea waves complemented the breathtaking view of Coney Island as I walked along the meandering pathway. This demonstrates that as users gradually develop a sense of connection with nature, the landscape allows the possibility for users to heal with the intrinsic beauty of being in an outdoor landscaped setting.


Figure 5: GRC Timber plank pathway along Waterfront, accompanied by colourful vegetation (Azzah Atifah, 2021)

According to landscape architect Christophe Girot, due to rapid industrialization, the cultural obstacles for landscape architecture include creating a “natural” environment while allowing developments to happen simultaneously. (Girot, 2016) In the context of Punggol Promenade, the “development” refers to residential housing estates and recreational activities within the landscape.

Figure 6: Elaboration of "more natural," Lecture 3 "Naturally Artificial" (Ervine Lin, 2022)
(L-R) Figure 7: Social gathering space. Figure 8: Recreational activities within the landscape area (Landezine, 2012)

Furthermore, the diverse variety of vegetation along the pathway involves rewilding the landscape with native plants. This is a strategic way to harbour more biodiversity such as birds and butterflies within the same landscape shared with humans. The diverse planting palette is inspired by Punggol’s landscape history. Prior to urbanisation, it was a densely forested area. Figure 8 and 9 shows planting that is evocative of a forest theme. I believe that this is an attempt to echo the historical landscape, in hopes to bring emphasis to Punggol’s past. Despite the challenge of intertwining human and nature spaces, Punggol Promenade is successful in allowing human intervention and nature to coexist harmoniously, hence creating a strong bond between man and nature.


(L-R) Figure 9: Rewilding along waterfront taken. Figure 10: Retaining existing landscape. (Azzah Atifah, 2022) Figure 11: Displays of the authentic landscape (National Archives of Singapore, 1955).
Figure 12: Section of recreational activities within existing and new landscape (Azzah Atifah, 2022)
Back to Nature

Marie Antoinette (1785) claims, “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” Punggol Promenade was designed with inspiration from the site’s history and is intended to portray the heritage of Punggol. Upon further research, I discovered that Punggol possesses a rich history that drives the design of Punggol Promenade. I admire how the design interventions in the site subtly inform the public about its past.


Palimpsest

Palimpsest refers to the ancient practice of writing and erasing and writing again over the same surface. The landscape serves as a parchment paper upon which natural and cultural changes make imprints over space and time. (Herrington, 2017) With regards to landscape, this is particularly helpful in communicating the history of the site. I interpret this idea as understanding the multiple layers of history and portraying it on an individual piece of land. There are two aspects of how the concept of palimpsest was applied to Punggol Promenade: materiality and recreational activities.


The composition of materials recalls the rustic character of historical Punggol, which used to be filled with rural kampong communities (Landezine, 2012). For example, when it was first opened, richly saturated hues of porous pebbles form the designated pathway. These porous pebbles were used to imitate dirt, which was the conventional material of pathways found in the past. Walking or cycling on this path takes users on a special journey as it allows users to reminisce about the past. It is not a conventional concrete pathway found in urban parks. The visually striking, bold colours, and satisfying crunchy sounds made when the user steps on the pebbles, grant a distinct character.


(L-R) Figure 13: View of pathway along resting area (2012). Figure 14: Cyclists riding on pathway (2012)

However, I noticed with time that changes have been made to the materials of the site. For example, asphalt is now used for the cycling paths, and concrete is used for the resting area. While there is no evidence on site to explain why these changes have been made, I assume that it is due to the cost of maintenance to ensure that the porous pebbles do not gradually erode away. This relates back to the concept of palimpsest as it involves erasing and inscribing a part of the site.


Figure 15: Resting stop taken by (Azzah Atifah, 2022)

The second aspect of designing with palimpsest is reflected in the recreational activities. Historically, Punggol was regarded as a suitable place for retreat and recreation due to its rural atmosphere and relative seclusion from the central district of Singapore. Of note, fishing was a type of recreational activity closely related to the site.


Figure 16: Fishing Village (National Museum, 2018). Figure 17: Fishing village (The Straits Times, 2019)

I discovered that Punggol was historically a fishing village occupied by Malay settlers. (HDB, 2020) There are three designated fishing decks along Punggol Promenade, which act as thoughtful reminders of the past. These decks strengthen the spirit and identity of Punggol. I find it impressive that these fishing decks include information boards that advise users on fishing etiquette, emphasising the importance of keeping the environment clean. In addition, the designated bin for fish lines and hooks is well-considered.


(L-R) Figure 18: Fishing Deck. Figure 19: Information board of Fishing Deck (Azzah Atifah, 2019)

Landscape architect Laurie Olin (1998) suggests that we understand and emulate nature by researching its historical precedence. This implies that incidents of the past give inspiration to the design and utilization of future spaces, which gives such spaces meaning and identity. I strongly believe that this allows me to have a fruitful experience walking along Punggol Promenade.


With an understanding of landscape history and theory, Punggol Promenade starts to make sense to me. I appreciate how various elements and spaces gel perfectly with site context and history. History is celebrated through the choice of planting, material, and spatial design. This gives Punggol Promenade its own identity where design is a reflection of the past, a reflection of the various activities that breathe life into the area. If a similar landscape was constructed anywhere else, it will not share the same meaning as Punggol Promenade. Through this reflection, visually represented in Figure 20, I now understand how and why I have a deep connection to Punggol Promenade.

Figure 20: Interrelated diagram of history and existing landscape & recreational activities. The dotted lines with arrows display the theory/concept behind the interrelations.
 

Azzah Atifah is a passionate individual who has a zest for learning. Her creative ideas extend beyond landscape architecture. As the founder of Hennaflair, she explores unique design ideas and shares her skills through teaching workshops and adorning hands. Ultimately, Azzah takes pleasure in contributing back to the community by sharing her knowledge through various forms of art.


Edited by Dr. Ervine Lin and Ruen Qing Wong

 
References
Bowler, D., Buyung‐Ali, L., Knight, T., and Pullin, A. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health 10 (1): 456
Chan, M. (2018). Punggol: Waves of recreation. ROOTS. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.roots.gov.sg/stories-landing/stories/punggol-waves-of-recreation/story
Chan, M. (2018). Punggol: Waves of recreation. ROOTS. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.roots.gov.sg/stories-landing/stories/punggol-waves-of-recreation/story
Collado, S., Staats, H., Corraliza, J.A., and Hartig, T. (2017). Restorative environments and health. In: Handbook of Environmental Psychology and Quality of Life Research (ed. G. Fleury‐ Bahi, E. Pol and O. Navarro), 127–148. Cham: Springer International.
Girot, C. (2016) The Course of Landscape Architecture: A History of our Designs on the Natural World, from Prehistory to the Present. 1 edition, New York, NY: Thames & Hudson. p. 209
Herrington, S. (2017). PDF. New York; Routledge.
Housing Development, B. (2022). Punggol. HDB. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.hdb.gov.sg/about-us/history/hdb-towns-your-home/punggol#:~:text=History%20of%20Punggol,%2C%20and%20pig%2Drearing%20activities.
Lee, J. (2019, September 1). Old punggol road to become heritage trail: Did you know there was a zoo in Punggol? The Straits Times. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/old-punggol-road-to-become-heritage-trail-5-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-historic
Look Architects, L. (2012). Punggol Promenade by look architects. Landezine. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://landezine.com/punggol-promenade-by-look-architects/
Olin, L. (1988) ‘Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture’, Landscape Journal, 7, 149–168.
PUB, S. (2011). PUB Recreation Club. Social Facilities - Pub Recreation Club. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from http://pubrc.org.sg/events.html
SG, N. H. B. (2021). A Malay fishing village. ROOTS. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.roots.gov.sg/Collection-Landing/listing/1131313
Singapore, R. (2020, November 8). Retracing the 26 tracks of Punggol Road. Remember Singapore. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://remembersingapore.org/2018/09/30/old-punggol-road-26-tracks/
URA, F. P. (2017). Punggol Promenade. Our favourite place - punggol promenade. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.ura.gov.sg/ms/OurFavePlace/events/bench/locations/punggol
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