Last 23 April 2015 marked the end date for international design teams to submit for the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Concept Master Plan for the Singapore Rail Corridor. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) organized the RFP entitled, ‘Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space’ in which landscape architects and architects were given the opportunity to assemble a multi-disciplinary team to provide Concept Proposals for the disused railway area of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Railway Line.
The 26-km long Rail Corridor is a precious area for land-scarce Singapore and it spans north to south of the country. It connects diverse landscapes from the edge of the city center, marked by the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, passing through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and several residential districts and finally terminating at the industrial area at Woodlands. One of the special things about this project is its aim to integrate community aspirations in the Planning and Design Goals of the RFP brief. The project is seen as a positive contribution to the Singapore landscape, which celebrates the regeneration of nature and the importance of heritage as part of the experience. The proposals are envisioned to attune with evolving community needs and will be sensitive to the site’s particular ‘green corridor’ experience. As Mr Ng Lang, Chief Executive Officer of the URA, said, “The return of the former railway land presented a unique opportunity for us to shape the future of the Rail Corridor and its surrounding areas together with the community. The Corridor has the potential to become an extraordinary cross-island green artery and an inclusive community space that provides an exceptional experience for Singaporeans from all walks of life” (URA, 2015).
The overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor includes concept designs for four key activity nodes and smaller community nodes. Two special interest areas were also designated for Concept Design. Here are the design requirements of the RFP given to participating design teams, as described by the URA (2015):
(1) The Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals should create a unique and endearing Rail Corridor experience. The Concept Master Plan should be embedded with a strong identity and clear design approach that includes proposals for a community connector, amenities, and programming for community use. It should also include landscape, heritage and urban design strategies. Teams should also propose innovative design strategies to sensitively integrate developments with nature and greenery along the Rail Corridor.
In addition, participating teams are to propose creative concept designs for four key activity nodes along the Corridor that can support a range of activities, namely:
(i) Buona Vista (near One-North)
This can become a vibrant community space for the nearby business park and research community, as well as residents of the Queenstown neighborhood. Its design should consider integrating the Rail Corridor with surrounding developments using appropriate urban design strategies. As it is located next to the Buona Vista MRT interchange station and is easily accessible by the public, the space could be designed to accommodate mass activities and events.
(ii) Bukit Timah Railway Station area
This is the green heart of the Rail Corridor. This midway point of the Corridor can become its green gateway with supporting visitor facilities. The planning and design of this node should be complementary to its idyllic natural setting anchored by the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station.
The former Bukit Timah Railway Station
(iii) Former Bukit Timah Fire Station
The former Bukit Timah Fire Station and quarters will become a new gateway into the Rail Corridor. A new pedestrian link will be provided from the Fire Station site directly into the Rail Corridor where visitors could explore the parks fringing the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve such as Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park. The buildings within the Fire Station site will be retained and should be repurposed for uses that complement its function as a gateway into the Rail Corridor.
(iv) Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT Station)
This is envisioned to become the northern gateway into the Rail Corridor. Located across from the Kranji MRT station, it is highly accessible as a major gathering place for the community to hold events and start the journey south towards the city. Its design should complement and be sensitive to key landmarks in the area such as the Singapore Turf Club, Kranji War Memorial, and Mandai Mangroves.
(2) Special interest area 1: Concept Designs for the adaptive reuse of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
This National Monument located at the edge of the city will become the most prominent and important gateway into the Rail Corridor. Participating teams should consider how the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station could be put to adaptive reuse as a community building for the next 20 years, pending the development of the Greater Southern Waterfront. They are to propose suitable uses that will give the building a new lease of life.
(3) Special interest area 2: Concept Designs for an urban-green-blue tapestry at Choa Chu Kang
The stretch of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang that is adjacent to the Sungei Pang Sua Canal provides an opportunity to weave a unique urban-green-blue tapestry in the precinct. Currently, that stretch has low plant biodiversity, while the Sungei Pang Sua has been fully converted into a canal. Participating teams are to propose an innovative design concept to enhance and integrate that segment of the Rail Corridor with Sungei Pang Sua to create an ecologically richer and more vibrant natural environment, and merge it seamlessly with future housing design in the area.
History of the Rail Network in Singapore
For a span of a century, the Rail Corridor was an important transport link for Malaya where the KTM Railway connected Singapore to the neighboring country of Malaysia in the North. It served as a convenient way for transport of goods, passenger travel and a communication link between the two countries. At the time of its conception, the railway in Singapore was envisioned to be the terminal point of an extensive rail network that will connect Southeast Asia to China, Russia (through the Trans-Siberian Railway) and ending at Calais, France in Europe. The development of the railway in Singapore started in 1903 and its official use as a train network ended in 30 June 2011. The track of land of the railway, which was previously owned by Malaysia, was handed over to Singapore after settling the land-exchange agreement between the two countries (Liew, et.al, 2013).
Constructed in 1932, the impressive Tanjong Pagar Railway Station building has now been designated as a National Monument by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments of Singapore. The smaller Bukit Timah Station, reminiscent of traditional small town train stations in the United Kingdom, has also been conserved in 2011. The tracks, sleepers and railway equipment of the Rail Corridor has mostly been removed but it has become a stretch of a linear green space, a “green corridor”, that serves as an informal community space contrasting the highly manicured landscape found in most parts of Singapore.
Civil Society Involvement
The Rail Corridor is not only an important space in Singapore serving as a linear spine and a historically significant corridor; it is also a relevant discussion point between the growing voice of civil society on urban planning policies. Before the conclusions of negotiations between Malaysia and Singapore on its final handover, the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) have done preliminary documentation of the site, highlighting the ecological and cultural values of the railway (Liew, et al, 2013). Public talks and tours were organized to create higher awareness to the public and an online social media platform called, “We support the Green Corridor” have reinforced people’s desires to keep intact some spaces in Singapore.
Because of great public debate questioning the possible new land use of the Rail Corridor, the URA undertook a preliminary design competition from November 2011 to March 2012 entitled, “The Journey of Possibilities – Ideas Competition”, which looked into programmatic aspects of the Rail Corridor. Issues like biodiversity, inclusiveness and accessibility; community ownership; heritage conservation; and innovative public space were seen as important issues that need to be covered in the competition. A separate category for the ideas of the youth was also done during this time. Several local and international researchers have also documented different aspects of this space and providing varied layers of possibilities for its development (Ekmekci & Sevtsuk, 2014; Liew, et al, 2013; Bruun, 2014; NSS, 2010; SHS, 2012). The feedback and ideas captured in the last four years and the inputs from the preliminary design competition were used as a foundation of the RFP brief. Mr. Ng Lang emphasized the importance of community engagement in developing the RFP. “Our intention is to continue to sensitively stage the development of this project with the community, and not rush into developing the whole stretch at one go”, says Mr. Ng.
The RFP exercise comprises of a 2-stage Tender Selection Process. Participating teams’ submissions are currently being assessed by a distinguished evaluation panel that have deep and extensive experience and knowledge in urban planning and design, architecture, landscape architecture, building heritage, nature conservation, sustainable development, and park management. The five shortlisted teams will undergo the second part of the selection process, starting on 22 May 2015. Teams will create Concept Designs & Proposals for the Rail Corridor with particular focus on the urban-green-blue framework at Choa Chu Kang and adaptive reuse concepts for the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
The successful team(s) of consultants will be announced in October 2015 and there will be a public exhibition of all shortlisted submissions from October to December 2015. The final successful team for the Concept Master Plan will carry out a preliminary design for a 4-km signature stretch of the Rail Corridor.
About the author: Gabriel Caballero
Bruun, S.A.W., 2014. “The Rail Trail – Transformation of a cultural landscape in Singapore”. M.Sc. University of Copenhagen. [online] Available at: < http://issuu.com/saraawbruun/docs/specialet_issuu> [Accessed 8 May 2015].
Ekmekci, O. & Sevtsuk, A., 2014. “50 Ways to the Singapore Rail Corridor”, City Form Lab, Singapore University of Technology and Design. [online] Available at: < http://cityform.mit.edu/projects/50> [Accessed 3 May 2105].
Liew, K.K., Pang, N. & Chan, B. 2013. “New media and new politics with old cemeteries and disused railways: advocacy goes digital in Singapore”, Asian Journal of Communications, 23:6 pp.605-619.
NSS, 2010. “The Green Corridor: Proposal to Keep the Railway Lands as a Continuous Green Corridor”. [pdf] Nature Society of Singapore. Available at: < http://www.nss.org.sg/banner.aspx?id=fuCxSM0A9zI=&type=2> [Accessed 1 May 2015].
SHS, 2012. “Singapore Heritage Society: KTM Railway Corridor Research and Documentation Project”. [pdf] Singapore Heritage Society. Available at: < http://www.singaporeheritage.org/?page_id=1354> [Accessed 28 April 2015].
URA, 2015. “URA launches Request for Proposal for the Rail Corridor.” [press release] 18 March 2015. Available at: < http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/news/2015/mar/pr15-11.aspx> [Accessed 25 April 2015].