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Reflections on Rower's Bay Park

Vince originally wrote this pictorial essay for the class “History and Theory of Landscape Architecture” as a student of 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. Working within a multidisciplinary consultant team, the landscape architect of Rower’s Bay Park was Stephen Caffyn Landscape Design.

 

Located on the outskirts of Yishun, connected to the Punggol-Sengkang residency, Rower’s Bay Park is part of the first 60km of the proposed 120km Round Island Route (RIR). Regarded as a “hidden gem” to Singaporeans outside of the Yishun neighbourhood, Rower’s Bay Park together with the Yishun Dam, is a nature retreat with boardwalk and lookout pavilion set amongst swales and wetland.


Rower’s Bay Park bears significance to me because I have frequently traveled past since a young age, before the commencement of conceptualisation and construction of the park. I had the privilege of witnessing the area’s transformation and seeing the fascinating changes over time. My relationship with this park is rather special. During the initial phases, I was not that interested in nature, but progressively, as I understood nature better, I found myself escaping to Rower’s Bay Park for quiet time.

Parallels In Design & Culture
Figure 1: A picture showing the integration of various elements. (Delfina Utomo)

Rower’s Bay Park comprises a lookout pavilion, boardwalk, swales, and a wetland. Given its location next to the reservoir, it can be argued that Rower’s Bay Park celebrates unity of natural elements: water, grass, flowers, trees, stones, boulders, wildlife – all related to the Five Elements in Chinese culture. Seeing how all these elements co-exist within a system, and at the same time allow human interaction, it reminded me of the historical gardens of Asia. I draw parallels between Rower’s Bay Park with the ideas in Chinese garden design where Confucianismpromotes a harmonious co-existence between man and nature. Seeing how integrated the elements are at Rower’s Bay Park, I couldn’t help but ponder if the expressions of unity and integration were inspired by Chinese values.


Materiality and Interaction

In “Landscape Theory in Design,” Susan Herrington emphasises the importance of materiality whereby materials have “interpretive potential,” meaning their own authenticity and intention. Herrington further contends that “materials are touched, walked upon, or sat on – and anticipating the specific experiences arising out of these interactions is often a key objective for designers.” This discussion on materials and their qualities inspired me to re-evaluate the fundamentals of how materials operate in relation to my senses: sight, sound, smell, and touch (no taste for hygiene reasons). Through these new lenses, my sensitivity toward nature and space is increased. It also dawned on me how we take material for granted, or simply treat it with indifference. Just as how Jon Piasecki constructed Stone River, I too want to engage further with the site in an extremely hands-on manner. I decided to walk every single walkable path at Rower’s Bay Park. Figure 2 shows a section with a gravel footpath which I enjoyed and found memorable.

Figure 2: A memorable gravel footpath at Rower’s Bay Park. (Vince Toh, 2022)

I personally found the use of gravel in this section rather refreshing because it was the only isolated part that had gravel since the rest of the park comprises wooden planks (boardwalk) and granite. By walking through it, I produced “clanking” sounds and engaged with an auditory sensorial experience and visual aesthetics. The “clanking” sounds were directly related to the material quality of the gravel which is a reflection of the individual user experience. If you’re calm and walk at a relaxed pace, the “clanking” is soft, whereas if you walk in haste, the “clanking” is louder and irregular. The gravel’s material quality is also related to the immaterial of being in the site by heightening awareness. The triggering of an auditory experience via gravel heightens awareness of other sounds, such as the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, and the sounds of water in the reservoir…

Figure 3: An detailed view of the gravel. (Vince Toh, 2022)

Gravel in Rower’s Bay Park does indeed play a part in defining consciousness. Due to the nature of gravel being irregular in size, it is ] results in people walking slower and being more cautious. This caution is a by-product of touch, the interaction between feet and surface, and inspires a sense of being grounded.


Figure 4: Stone piles on a large boulder. (Vince Toh, 2022)

While material is often defined by its tectonic expressions, hardscapes and softscapes can also be viewed as “material” in their own entity. I was drawn to the boulders zone at Rower Bay’s Park, and realised that the boulders can be viewed as a material with“interpretive potential.” “Interpretive potential” has no boundaries, and both the values and functions of material are left to the user’s definition. I noticed a little stone tower arranged on top of a larger boulder. The availability of these stones and boulders provide a creative outlet to be utilised as creative materials. I reckon that this little arrangement could have been done by users who were curious and playful. Likewise, upon seeing this arrangement of stones, users may also view it as a form of public land art installation.


Figure 5: Boulders zone. (Vince Toh, 2022)

Again, this broad field of boulders has no fixed definition or rules, and it is intriguing to see how different members of the public of varying backgrounds or age groups interpret materials within such a space. Through this “interpretive potential,” materials thus once again brings people closer to nature.


Landscape for Health
Figure 6: Lecture 11 slide (Lin & Wong, 2022)

There is a linkage between nature and health. From my personal experience, I feel that Rower’s Bay Park has therapeutic and health promotion effects. Firstly, because of the seclusion- of the location, driving and public transport are rather inconvenient, and the most efficient way to arrive at Rower’s Bay Park is by cycling or walking, which is why it usually attracts cyclists, runners, or people who are exercising. From my analysis, this is partly the reason why this park is conceptualized as part of the Round Island Route (RIR). In order to reach the park, the best way is through physical activity, hence promoting and catering to a healthy, active lifestyle.


Secondly, the way that Rower’s Bay Park is conceptualised creates an ambience that contributes to a healing sense of place. The construction of the boardwalk, pavilion, swales, wetland and planting of vegetation are aligned around the existing water bodies, connecting natural and built environments. It is apparent that the design intention is to nurture the relationship between man and nature, as the boardwalk is built close to the water bodies and the pavilion overlooks the reservoir and into the horizon with unobstructed views. The aesthetics of nature provides a soothing and relaxing feel, and because of the secludedness of Rower’s Bay Park, the entire park conveys a sense of escape into nature, a therapeutic effect for visitors.


Possible Improvement

As great as Rower’s Bay Park is, there can be room for improvements. From my observation, better noise reduction within the site would be desirable and could be achieved with the planting of more shrubs on the outskirts of the Park where traffic is heavy. By further subduing vehicular noises, and visually blocking traffic’s views, visitors may enjoy a quieter, more relaxing experience.

Without a doubt, Rower’s Bay Park is a well-designed, naturalistic establishment with a noteworthy intention of connecting man and nature. When the RIR is completed, I look forward to seeing the Park realize its potential in connection to Singapore’s green network.

 

Vince Toh is a spatial design student pursuing a BLA at NUS. In his design processes, Vince has an inclination towards raw emotions and aesthetics, exploring how humans experience and respond to spaces, and harnessing the characteristics of culture, time, and memory in relation to the ever-changing urban landscapes. He is also a dancer and DJ in Singapore’s street dance community. Vince enjoys film photography and exploring streetwear, and strives to connect the various elements of his artistic endeavours together.


Edited by Dr. Ervine Lin and Ruen Qing Wong

 
References

Bell, S. L., Foley, R., Houghton, F., Maddrell, A., & Williams, A. M. (2018). From therapeutic landscapes to healthy spaces, places and practices: A scoping review. Social science & medicine (1982), 196, 123–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.035

刘明. (n.d.). The art of Chinese garden and traditional Chinese culture. Chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201812/09/WS5ca315dfa3104842260b3fb5.html

Herrington, S. (2016). Landscape Theory in Design. 1 edition, New York, NY: Routledge.

Rower's Bay Park is one of Singapore's hidden gems that will up your Instagram game. The Travel Insider. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://thetravelinsider.co/sg/en/destinations/singapore/singapore/yafiq-yusman/rower-s-bay-park-is-one-of-singapore-s-hidden-gems-that-will-up-your-instagram-game

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