The 2018 IFLA World Congress in Singapore

by Erik S. Mustonen, ASLA, CSLA, RLA (CA + MN), CLARB, LEED AP-ND

image: Erik Mustonen

The Republic of Singapore, an island city-state one degree north of the equator, has 5.6 million residents on 700 square kilometers (270 square miles.) Since independence in 1965, land reclamation has increased its size by 23%. With dense development on its small area, only 5% of its historical forests remain, but the creation of nature parks has become a national priority. It is a multi-ethnic community with four official languages—English (most common), Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Most of its people are bilingual. About 74% of the residents are of Chinese descent. It ranks very high in many economic measures and is known to be safe, corruption free, and extremely well organized (some say too organized). While working in nearby Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s, I often visited Singapore, and I was impressed by how much it has developed since then.

The 2018 International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress and Trade Exhibition was held from July 18-19, at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. It was organized by IFLA together with the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects and the (Singapore) National Parks Board. The organizers also offered nine technical tours on July 20.

The Congress included presentations of the winning entries of the first IFLA multi-regional awards for projects in Africa, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East. IFLA is divided into five regions, the other two being Europe and the Americas. The winning award entries were on display in the Convention Centre, and they were also presented in an impressive 302-page, full color, glossy book given out to the attendees.

The congress was also held in conjunction with the Singapore Garden Festival at Gardens by the Bay across the street from the congress hotel.

Technical Presentations

Having attended IFLA World and Regional Congresses for over forty years, I noted that the quality of many of the presentations has improved greatly. The Congress had three themes: Biophilic City, Smart City, and Future Resilience. These are, not coincidentally, also currently being promoted as national strategies for Singapore. Many of the presentations and the technical tours that followed showed successful examples of the implementation of green roofs, green walls, low-impact stormwater management, and a planned, integrated national approach to managing the environment as a whole, for both nature and the people. Singapore is in many ways unique, but there are also encouraging trends in other countries such as China, where past policies have created problems that are now beginning to be addressed.

“Landscapes of the Future,” the closing keynote by Daan Roosegaarde, a Dutch environmental artist, presented a hopeful and imaginative view of the way forward.

IFLA Africa – Asia Pacific – Middle East 2018 Awards project displays / image: Erik Mustonen

The closing Dinner and Award Presentation, in addition to multiple courses of local gourmet cuisine and a very lengthy series of award presentations, also featured a re-enactment of a traditional Straits-born Chinese wedding ceremony.

Re-enactment of a traditional wedding at the IFLA Awards Banquet / image: Erik Mustonen

The next IFLA World Congress will be in Oslo, Norway, September 18-20, 2019. There will also be an Asia-Pacific Regional Congress in the Philippines (details to be announced).

The Venue

Singapore, which characterizes itself as the “City in a Garden” and also as a Biophilic City, was an ideal location for the World Congress. In fact, the event was nearly upstaged by the venue, including the Congress’ hotel, Marina Bay Sands, across the street from the Expo and Convention Centre.

Designed by Moshe Safdie Architects, the 20-hectare (49.4-acre), $5.83 billion complex opened in 2010 with a 2,561-room hotel, an expo/convention center, a shopping mall, theaters, restaurants, a museum, the world’s largest atrium casino, and two floating pavilions. It is topped off by the SkyPark, the world’s largest public cantilevered platform with a 67-meter (220-foot) overhang.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 1 / image: Erik Mustonen
Marina Bay Sands Lobby / image: Erik Mustonen
Lobby Atrium / image: Erik Mustonen
Marina Bay Sands Towers 1, 2 and 3 and the SkyPark / image: Erik Mustonen

The 340 m (1129 ft.) long, 1.2-hectare (3-acre) SkyPark has swimming pools and gardens 191 m (627 ft.) above grade. Custom jacks at 500 locations beneath the SkyPark, are designed to accommodate adjustments that may be needed due to future building settlement, to keep the edge of the “infinity pool” level. This is the world’s longest elevated swimming pool at 146 m (479 ft.). The entire site is a land reclamation area in what had previously been part of the Singapore Strait of the South China Sea.

The SkyPark from the cantilevered viewing deck / image: Erik Mustonen
The world’s longest elevated swimming pool (an infinity pool) / image: Erik Mustonen
The author at the “infinity pool” edge / image: Erik Mustonen

Gardens by the Bay

Concurrent with the IFLA 2018 World Congress, the Singapore Garden Festival was held in Gardens by the Bay, a constructed nature park across the street from the Marina Bay Sands and literally in its shadow.

Gardens by the Bay South: Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories (center-left) and Supertrees (circular structures) / image: Erik Mustonen

Gardens by the Bay is a 101-hectare (250-acre) nature park in three areas, on land reclamation fill bordering Marina Bay, east of Singapore’s Downtown Core. The Gardens were created as part of the “City in a Garden” concept for the re-branding of Singapore, and the result of an international competition held in 2006. And, they are about to get a lot more exposure worldwide: the Gardens are featured in the film (and trailer for) Crazy Rich Asians, which opened in theaters just yesterday and is largely set in Singapore.

South Garden, the largest of the three at 54 hectares (130 acres), opened in 2012. As the site of the Singapore Garden Festival, the Gardens by the Bay were much more impressive than the Festival. The South Garden has educational areas including Heritage Gardens representing the Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Colonial cultures that contributed to the creation of Singapore. The main attractions, however, are the domed conservatories and the Supertrees.


Supertrees, tree-shaped trellis structures ranging from 25 to 50 m (82 to 160 ft.) high, support vines, ferns, orchids, and numerous other plants, while providing some of the same ecological functions as natural trees—collecting solar energy used to power lighting, and rainwater for irrigation and fountains. They are also air intake and exhaust components of the cooling system for the conservatories.

A grove of Supertrees / image: Erik Mustonen
Supertree Base / image: Erik Mustonen
Supertree “Canopy Walk” / image: Erik Mustonen
Supertree “crown” / image: Erik Mustonen

Cloud Forest

There are two air-conditioned domed conservatories: the cool-dry Flower Dome and the cool-humid Cloud Forest. The Flower Dome, at 1.2 hectares (3 acres), is the world’s largest greenhouse without interior columns. The Cloud Forest maintains the cool, foggy conditions of the tropical highlands of about 2,000 m (6,600 ft.) elevation in Southeast Asia.

Visitors ascend in an elevator to the top of “Cloud Mountain” and then descend along a series of walkways projecting from and running through, the “mountain.” Its exterior is entirely covered with tropical highland vegetation such as ferns, clubmosses, orchids, anthuriums and bromeliads. There is also a 42 m (138 ft.) waterfall.

Cloud Mountain in the Cloud Forest, an air-conditioned domed conservatory / image: Erik Mustonen
Elevated walkway on Cloud Mountain / image: Erik Mustonen
Elevated walkway system / image: Erik Mustonen
Tree ferns at the base of the Cloud Mountain / image: Erik Mustonen
Inside Cloud Mountain / image: Erik Mustonen

The South Garden has some very pleasant pedestrian spaces outside of the feature areas, which can be crowded.

Quiet seating area, Gardens by the Bay / image: Erik Mustonen
Landscape architect Henry Rowlan by a Fish Tail Palm and Philodendron / image: Erik Mustonen
Fan Palm / image: Erik Mustonen
Sculptures of water buffaloes in a marsh / image: Erik Mustonen
Epiphyte / image: Erik Mustonen
Teak Flower/Parrot Tree (Butea monosperma) / image: Erik Mustonen

Singapore Garden Festival

Although the Garden Festival held at the Gardens by the Bay was promoted as a feature for the IFLA 2018 World Congress, the nature parks of the Gardens were enough of an attraction by themselves. The Garden Festival was a very crowded, somewhat frenzied, and sometimes contrived event. Balcony gardens, created as temporary exhibits, were interesting, but there were also air-conditioned tent conservatories containing floral displays and fantasy gardens that seemed like science fiction and were vaguely unsettling.

Indoor fantasy garden at the Singapore Garden Festival / image: Erik Mustonen

The Gardens by the Bay, however, are well worth seeing. Although only six years old, the South Garden is a well-designed, well-established (things grow fast in the tropics), peaceful place to spend time—although with the exception of the air-conditioned conservatories, preferably not in the heat of the mid-day sun (it is hot year-round in Singapore). The permanent portions of Gardens by the Bay are a world-class attraction, and they will only get better with time.

Erik S. Mustonen, ASLA, CSLA, RLA (CA + MN), CLARB, LEED AP-ND, is a dual US-Canadian citizen currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, whose career of over 40 years has evolved in Canada, the United States, and overseas (Germany, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Tunisia).

3 thoughts on “The 2018 IFLA World Congress in Singapore

  1. Lisa Bailey August 17, 2018 / 1:15 pm

    Wow!!! Thanks for sharing about this place. I can only imagine that being there is more amazing than your photos.

  2. Pingback: Erik S Mustonen

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