Architecture: The £500m first step to 'Spaceship Earth'

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The Independent Culture

British architects have just delivered a £500m mega-project in Singapore that may change the default perception of the city whose obsession with panoptic civic order, and financial services, has reportedly made one in six of its residents a dollar millionaire in terms of immediately disposable cash. The Bay South Garden conservatories are the centrepiece of the development, and their two gleaming glass biomes, designed by Chris Wilkinson, feature the world's largest glazed gridshell, a doubly curved grid-like structure.

The gridshell, 200m long and 55m high, may prove that mid-20th century visionary, Buckminster Fuller was not mad. He invented the geodesic dome and popularised the concept of "spaceship Earth", proposed in 1960 the construction of a vast glass biosphere over central Manhattan. The idea was conceptually fabulous, but operationally barking because it would have been impossible to regulate the build-up of heat and pollution inside the dome.

Singapore's biomes are virtually zero-carbon in energy use. The biomes cover two hectares of Mediterranean and cloud-forest gardens, creating closed-loop environments in terms of energy-use and internal climate control.

Chris Wilkinson's project leader, Paul Baker, describes the design as, "an unprecedented integration of sustainability principles into a structure of this size."