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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

River Safari by DP ARCHITECTS

September 8th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: DP ARCHITECTS

While a modern metropolis such as Singapore offers many amenities and conveniences, there are times when people seek respite from urban life and a chance to interact with nature. River Safari is the first and only river-themed wildlife park in Asia, hosting Southeast Asia’s largest panda exhibit and the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. It is not just a collection of wildlife exhibits, butblends the animal habitats into a natural setting – immersing guests and animals in the same landscape. It allows people to observehow animals live in the wild and to establish an open, authentic connection with the animals, yet offering the same safety benefits of a more traditional enclosure.

Sited along Upper Seletar Reservoir, the setting of River Safari is an attraction unto itself, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

  • Architects: DP ARCHITECTS
  • Project: River Safari
  • Competition Date: 2013
  • Site Area: 894,400sq.m
  • Photographer: Rory Daniel

The glazed dome structure of the Giant Panda Forest encloses a temperature and humidity‐controlled space that maintains a strong connection with the changing patterns of daylight, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Sited along the Upper Seletar Reservoir and nestled between Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, this 12haattraction features animals representing eight freshwater habitats from around the world – Amazon, Congo, Ganges, Mekong, Mississippi, Murray, Nile and Yangtze rivers.

Preserving the site’s natural topography, the panda enclosure is served by an elevated walkway that allows encounters with the pandas at eye level, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

On arrival, visitors are led by a covered walkway to the entrance plaza. In response to the need to provide human scale, the architects incorporated a series of two-storey huts at the entrance.The plaza accommodates services and facilities includinga gift shop, nursing rooms and a restaurant on the second storey; offices, a function room and first-aid station on the first storey. Functioning as a ‘village’, the entrance plaza is intended for meeting, socialising, resting and exchanging greetings before visitors move through to other destinations.

The multi‐storey car park is designed to bring in natural light and provide views towards the surroundings, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

The structure and appearance of the huts are informed with an awareness and respect for the natural landscape. Views and natural light are two important considerations in the genesis of the form. This collection of multi-functional spaces over two storeys is unified by a dog-legged spiral staircase carved out of the structure.  The staircase is wrapped with dark brown verticalaluminium trellis that sensitively filters daylight and views into the inner spaces.As one traverses the veiled spiral staircase, direct views to the surrounding nature and reservoirgradually unfold.

The 165m‐long bridge over Upper Seletar Reservoir, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

A focus on fine detailing and the use of local materials when designing the huts created a structure that is both modest and unique. Applying extensive treated bamboo screening underneath,the otherwise solid metal roofs of the huts are transformed into a lightweight canopy. Each of the four metal roofs are supported with a cluster of twisting structural steel columns that terminates at the apex with a circular skylight – a mimicry of the existing perimeter trees that are reaching towards the sky.

The central skylight with a wooden trellis veil enlivens the interior of the bathrooms in the entrance plaza zone, while preventing rainwater from splashing into the space, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Asimilar approachis reiterated in the unique semi-outdoor bathrooms throughout the entire development. The central skylight with a wooden trellis veil enlivens the interior of the bathrooms in the entrance plaza zone, while preventing rainwater from splashing into the space. Another example is found in the Amazon River Quest zone. The open-air wash basin area is surrounded by natural greenery and bamboo detailing, generating a pleasant microclimate by tempering the immediate environment. These distinctive design elements not only give the bathroom interiors an identity, but also foster the interplay between openness and privacy.

The attention to light and volume of the space imparts a true sense of discovery, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

The park brings together four distinct zones – Rivers of the World, Giant Panda Forest, the Amazon River Quest ride and Amazon Flooded Forest. The paths are carefully orchestrated to give visitors differentexperiences at each of the thematic zones. The charm of River Safari lies beyond the traditional static animal observation; the journey is planned as a kind of promenade designed for both lingering and dynamic viewing. For example, one of the key features is a 165m-long bridge which is built over the reservoir and offers a panoramic view out to the east. Along with the animal enclosures and attractions, the setting itself becomes another attraction as the visitor can experience vistas which are unique to this part of Singapore.

Amazon Flooded Forest, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Undoubtedly, the Giant Panda Forest is one of the highlights of the journey. In order to minimise the physical impact to the topography, the panda enclosure capitaliseson the existing sloping terrain. From the entrance, visitors are led by an elevated walkway so that they can encounter the pandas at eye level.Looking into the species’livingenvironment, the architects designed a glazed dome structure that encloses a temperature and humidity-controlled space. The space maintains a strong connection with the changing patterns of daylight, and at the same time avoids direct sunlight. The pattern of bamboo leaves on the glazed dome imitates the effect of bamboo trees casting dappled shadows on the ground.

A series of two‐storey huts at the entrance plaza provides human scale. Functioning as a village, the entrance plaza is designed for resting and socialising, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Another immersive attraction is the Amazon Flooded Forest towards the end of the journey. The visitors pass through an underwater tunnel and emerge into a rich underwater universe. One of the first experiences after the tunnel is the encounter withthe giant river otters. The barriers between the animals and visitors are well disguised so the experience is much more intimate than would typically be expected.  Another darkened tunnel leads visitors to gently descend into a river environment; the dramatic control of the ambient lighting from light into darkness enhances the sense of arrival and experience.  Walking in front of acrylicviewing panels of more than 22m in length and 4min height, visitorsaretreated to a panoramicview of the underwater environment.

The entrance plaza is designed with an awareness and respect for the landscape, with views and natural light as two key considerations, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

The manatees and numerous schools of fish practically envelope the viewers, while stingrays swim in afan-shaped tank in the ceiling above. Natural light permeates this space and plays off the surface ofthe water while penetrating the depths to create an almost ethereal scene below the surface. The careful and detailed attention to light and volumeimparts a true sense of discovery to the visitor.

The bathrooms within the entire development are designed as semi‐outdoor spaces with a focus on detailing and the use of local materials, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

The priority in the design of River Safari is toplace anemphasis on the visitor experience and to challenge conventional thinking of zoo interaction. Visitorsare guided on a rhythmic journey that offers intimate observation of the exhibits in a setting that is an attraction unto itself.

The solid metal roof is transformed into a lightweight canopy by applying extensive treated bamboo screening underneath, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Vertical aluminium trellis filters daylight and views into the staircase and inner spaces, Image Courtesy © Rory Daniel

Sketch of the huts at the entrance plaza, Image Courtesy © DP ARCHITECTS

Site Plan of River Safari, Image Courtesy © DP ARCHITECTS

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Category: Wildlife Center

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