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Multi-faceted: Jewel Changi Airport

Singapore’s new Jewel complex embodies the city-state’s mission to reinvent itself as a show-stopping destination for leisure as well as business

Even the smallest of waterfalls is captivating, but when that waterfall is 130-feet high, and inside an airport shopping center, it’s doubly so.

Go up through the levels of the Jewel and you can watch the initial cascade of the water as it is funneled through the striking glass roof. Further down, double-height strengthened glass channels the water in the final part of its descent. Here, shoppers stare in wonder, hands pressed against the glass, smiling for pictures. At night, a light and sound show is held every half-hour for about five minutes, drawing the crowds back to look at it all over again.

It’s quite a first impression of Singapore, but, then, it’s the embodiment of how the city-state has transformed itself in recent years and is continuing to challenge its reputation for being staid. Perhaps it was the opening of Gardens by the Bay that started the process in 2012, or even earlier when the Marina Bay Sands complex launched in 2010, but Singapore is seeing more visitors than ever before – 18.5 million last year, up from 11.6 million in 2010.

The Jewel in the… Airport

By now, most of us have heard about the Jewel Changi airport. Opened in April, the spectacular mixed-use complex landside at Singapore Changi covers a total floor area of nearly 1.5 million square feet (34 acres). It contains a large indoor garden, recreation space, airport facilities, a 130-room Yotelair, and a huge number of retail, food and drink outlets.

The construction of the S$1.7 billion (more than $1.2 billion) project began in 2014 on the former site of the Terminal 1 open-air car park – there’s parking for 2,500 cars in the basement of the Jewel, although it’s expected that most people will use public transport, or their feet, to visit it. The complex was designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect behind Marina Bay Sands and Toronto Pearson airport’s Terminal 1. In total, there are ten stories – five above ground and five below.

The overall design draws inspiration from Singapore’s reputation as a “city in a garden,” and there are many elements that will remind the regular visitor of Gardens by the Bay and its distinctive Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories. Viewed from outside, as you might expect, the Jewel looks like an enormous gem. Its dome-shaped façade is made of steel and special glass materials that both transmit light and reduce heat gain, which enables the growth of plants inside while providing sustainable cooling.

Taking in the Luster

The waterfall – or the HSBC Rain Vortex, to give its official name – is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, inspired by Singapore’s tropical downpours. Harvested rainwater cascades through the oculus on the roof and streams down seven floors. It’s an outstanding engineeringfeat, especially since the Skytrain was already runningthrough the cavernous space before the Jewel attraction was built; the waterfall is slightly off-center to allow the train to continue on its course.

Surrounding the Rain Vortex is the Forest Valley – again, the Shiseido Forest Valley is its official sponsored name – home to one of the largest indoor collections of plants in Singapore, with more than 900 trees and palms as well as about 60,000 shrubs. The lush forest spans four stories above ground and features two walking trails. You can climb from Level 1 all the way up to the top-floor Canopy Park on Level 5, where there are some great spots for photos overlooking the Vortex.

Canopy Park’s 150,694 square feet of recreational space includes play attractions, a garden, an event plaza and eight food and drink outlets. In the Topiary Walk, you’ll see animal topiary shrubs, while the Petal Garden displays seasonal flowers in bloom. The Foggy Bowls is an area for young children, with mist emitted from the ground creating the effect of playing in the clouds.

The Canopy Bridge, suspended nearly 250 feet above ground, is glass-bottomed in the middle, providing dazzling waterfall views. The Sky Nets, positioned 26 feet above the Canopy Park at their highest point, are in fact giant trampolines that allow you to walk or even bounce, provided you’re not afraid of heights. The Discovery Slides serve both as a viewing deck and a slide.

Providing another good vantage point is the 10,763-square-foot Cloud 9 Piazza, an event space that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. Food and drink options span local and international cuisines and include Tiger Street Lab, a new concept from homegrown brand Tiger Beer, and London’s Burger and Lobster.

Complex Conveniences

The Jewel complex offers several features of convenience. If you have luggage, there are storage facilities, and if you need a bed, the on-site Yotelair offers stays as short as four hours or longer. If you simply want to freshen up before you fly, Yotelair also has three shower cabins equipped with toiletries and towels that can be booked by the hour.

There are early check-in facilities on Level 1 at four manned counters, six self-service check-in kiosks and eight bag drops. Currently, 26 airlines offer early check-in services, including Singapore Airlines, Air China, ANA and Qantas. Opposite this area is the 150-seat Changi Lounge, which provides refreshments, comfortable seating, co-working space, showers and business facilities.

Meanwhile, to enhance sea-air connectivity and support Singapore as a cruise hub in the region, Changi is planning a transfer service to cruise and ferry passengers flying into Singapore. Luggage will also be delivered from their arriving flight to their departing vessel.

The Jewel has more than 280 retail, food and drink outlets from both Singapore and around the world. About half of the tenants are local brands, including Supermama, which sells souvenirs and porcelain items designed in Singapore and made in Japan, and the Cookie Museum, where gourmet flavors range from lavender to laksa. Some 60 percent of the outlets are new to Changi, with many being new to Singapore as well.

According to Ivan Tan, group senior vice-president of corporate and marketing communications at Changi airport, the Jewel is projected to receive 40 to 50 million total visitors in the first year. On a long-term basis, as many as 20 million international visitors are expected to visit the Jewel annually.