Corals at Keppel Bay | Keppel Island, Singapore | ICN Design International

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Keppel Island was one of the small islets clustered around the harbour headlands. Leveled and redeveloped for berthage and dockside the original topography of the landform was lost to concrete wateredge structures and flat whartside space. Now the ships, the cranes and cargo have all gone. The sea breeze cools occasional joggers, fisherman and strolling couples, across the vacant open space, awaiting a new chapter in its history.

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Water and our relationship to the sea forms a significant part of the landscape scheme for the residential development temporary showsuite on Pulau Keppel on the southern edge of Singapore’s Keppel Harbour. This coastal area of Singapore is rich in history, having been explored as a viable deep water harbour by Henry Keppel in the early nineteenth century. Of course prior to this colonial rediscovery the coast, the surrounding inlets and islands were home to villages, or Malay Kampongs, with fisherman supporting their extended families with the bounty of the ocean. Perched on long bamboo stilts the villages dotted the rocky headlands and sandy inlets amongst mangroves and estuaries. These began to give way to the maritime industries of the colonial port. Quickly following the berths, wharfs, warehouses, and dry-docks developed, with the area becoming a thriving shipping and service harbour for the global trade of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Stone, steel and concrete expressed the Victorian ambitions and confidence of an Empire stretching across South East Asia and the World. That period too passed as containerised transportation dominated ocean trade logistics and moved to larger waterfront space beyond the immediate city. In its place Keppel Land envisaged the transformation of the heavy industrial harbour into a stunning lifestyle district of waterfront residences, commercial, retail, recreation, promenade and marina. Master-planning this undertaking the old dry-dock structures have been preserved, along with the island wharfside to form a open space fabric for the whole urban district. The third and sixth stages of this transformation involve redeveloping the sites adjacent Kings Graving Dock and Keppel Island itself a small promontory just off the harbour edge. Chosen for the site of a new Marketing Centre and Showsuites the stunning position demanded a subtle combination of understated setting to maximise the extensive views from the island and robust planting to give form and spatial definition to the wide open flat site.


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Using  local history ICN conceived a design narrative in the new temporary landscape for the residential showsuite. The garden setting around the showsuite is a metaphor of coastal transformation. Soft ephemeral planting is juxtaposed against solid grounded masses; walls and ‘stones’. While entrance pathways eddy around these ‘stone blocks’ implying the movement of tidal water, referencing the past history of people, ships and trade. The central shaded avenue draws people into the site, and main entrance, before the broad expanses of coastal grass spread out as a foreground to the stretch of sea and sky. The extensive views are wide open, inviting thoughtful reflection. Connecting people with the unseen and oft forgotten “landscape” that is the past. This conceptual landscape narrative sets the physical formation subtly expressing the site changes over time.


Landscape design
Site planning determined the building siting; approach, views and massing. The landscape planning defined a finer grain of design with spatial articulation of vehicle entrances, pedestrian approach and garden setting for both the sales gallery and showsuite wings of the marketing suite. An existing access road were preserved but redefined with bold planting, with new and recycled pavements. The garden settings are similarly defined spatially through hardscape edges and softscape patterns.

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The landscape palette for this ‘public’ area has been chosen to reuse existing materials, and enhance the temporary facility with robust, durable yet stylish external finishes. The road pavement are partially recycled segmental pavers leading into a refined court of granite stone is a subtle blend of neutral grey tones. The ground plane for the overall site is an expression of that maritime story; hard working docksides, distinctive, spare and functional. The new palette is kept simple, a combination of recycled material, concrete, asphalt and granite stone.

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A component part of the landward side garden entrance is the feature seating structures that have been designed. These low seating structures are sculpted forms in textured concrete that emerge from the ground. The stone pavement wrap around these shoreline blocks, mimicking the coastal defences against the South China Sea. The tops are roughly textured and dark, a stark contrast and foil to the ephemeral planting. The garden bend and wrap around these features leading people into the temporary development.

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Softscape strategy
The planting palette reflects the tough conditions of the site. Long a industrial area the temporary clearance left minimal soil depths, much site concrete and poor water drainage. The palette of plants selected therefore has been a collection of hardy coastal species including Vitex spp, Schefflera arboricola, ubiquitous Wedelia trilobata and features Pennisetum grasses. The golden and bronze tall grasses constantly reflect the changing aspect, mood, colour of sea and sky. The distinctive Pandanus tectorius fronds, coarse Rhapis excelsa leaves and Crinums below old Palms in the entrance roundabout play against the wonderful avenue of Coccoloba uvifera that defines the main arrival court and shades people as they enter.


The combination of muted colours, strong coastal forms and textures in the outer landscape leads into the softer tones and waving of the inner garden before opening out again in expansive coastal species lawns along the seafront. A temporary landscape of simplicity and rugged beauty.

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Corals at Keppel Bay | Keppel Island, Singapore | ICN Design International

Corals at Keppel Bay – Showsuite Landscape
Location | Keppel Island, Singapore

Design firm | ICN Design International Pte Ltd Landscape Architects
Consultants | DCA Architects
BECA Engineers

Contractors | Bestem Construction & EcoGarden

Images | Mark Rafael, Mark Laririt,  ICN Design 
Text | Simon Morrison, ICN Design 

About Damian Holmes 3339 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at