Multi-faceted: Jewel Changi Airport

30 Aug 2019 by Tom Otley
The Jewel at Singapore Changi

Singapore’s new Jewel complex embodies the city-state’s mission to reinvent itself as a show-stopping destination for leisure as well as business 

Even the smallest of waterfalls is captivating, but when that waterfall is 40 metres high, and inside an airport shopping centre, it’s doubly so. Throw in a dash of jet lag from the flight you’ve just stepped off, and it borders on the surreal.

Go up through the levels of the Jewel and you can watch the initial cascade of the water as it is funnelled through the striking glass roof. Further down, double-height strengthened glass channels the water in the final part of its descent. Here, shoppers stare in wonder, hands pressed against the glass, smiling for pictures. At night, a light and sound show is held every half-hour for about five minutes, drawing the crowds back to look at it all over again.

It’s quite a first impression of Singapore, but, then, it’s the embodiment of how the city-state has transformed itself in recent years and is continuing to challenge its reputation for being staid. Perhaps it was the opening of Gardens by the Bay that started the process in 2012, or even earlier when the Marina Bay Sands complex launched in 2010, but Singapore is seeing more visitors than ever before – 18.5 million last year, up from 11.6 million in 2010.

The jewel in the... airport

By now, most of us have heard about the Jewel Changi airport. Opened in April, the spectacular mixed-use complex landside at Singapore Changi covers a total floor area of 135,700 sqm. It contains a large indoor garden, recreation space, airport facilities, a 130-room Yotelair, and a huge number of retail, food and drink outlets.

The construction of the S$1.7 billion (£1 billion) project began in 2014 on the former site of the Terminal 1 open-air car park – there’s parking for 2,500 cars in the basement of the Jewel, although it’s expected that most people will use public transport, or their feet, to visit it. The complex was designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect behind Marina Bay Sands and Toronto Pearson airport’s Terminal 1. In total, there are ten storeys – five above ground and five below.

The overall design draws inspiration from Singapore’s reputation as a “city in a garden”, and there are many elements that will remind the regular visitor of Gardens by the Bay and its distinctive Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories. Viewed from outside, as you might expect, the Jewel looks like an enormous gem. Its dome-shaped façade is made of steel and special glass materials that both transmit light and reduce heat gain, which enables the growth of plants inside while providing sustainable cooling. There’s also a 16mm air gap that can control the level of noise from planes taking off and landing on the nearby runways.

Great heights

The waterfall – or the HSBC Rain Vortex, to give its official name – is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, inspired by Singapore’s tropical downpours. Harvested rainwater cascades through the oculus on the roof and streams down seven floors. It’s an outstanding engineering feat, not least since the Skytrain was already running through the space before the Jewel was built; the waterfall is slightly off-centre to allow the train to continue on its course.

Surrounding the Rain Vortex is the Forest Valley – again, the Shiseido Forest Valley is its official sponsored name – home to one of the largest indoor collections of plants in Singapore, with more than 900 trees and palms as well as about 60,000 shrubs. The lush forest spans four storeys above ground and features two walking trails. You can climb from level 1 all the way up to the top-floor Canopy Park on level 5, where there are some great spots for photos overlooking the Vortex.

Canopy Park’s 14,000 sqm of recreational space includes play attractions, a garden, an event plaza and eight food and drink outlets. In the Topiary Walk, you’ll see animal topiary shrubs, while the Petal Garden displays seasonal flowers in bloom. The Foggy Bowls is an area for young children, with mist emitted from the ground creating the effect of playing in the clouds.

The Canopy Bridge, suspended 23 metres above ground, is glass-bottomed in the middle, providing dazzling waterfall views. The Sky Nets, positioned eight metres above the Canopy Park at their highest point, are in fact giant trampolines that allow you to walk or even bounce, provided you’re not afraid of heights. The Discovery Slides serve both as a viewing deck and a slide.

Providing another good vantage point is the 1,000 sqm Cloud 9 Piazza, an event space that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. Food and drink options span local and international cuisines and include Tiger Street Lab, a new concept from homegrown brand Tiger Beer, and London’s Burger and Lobster.

Jewel purpose

The intention behind the Jewel is twofold – to attract visitors to Singapore, and to strengthen the appeal of Changi airport as a transit hub. (You don’t need long to go from airside through security and immigration to get to the Jewel – five hours minimum advised, although if you like living dangerously I’m sure you could do it in less.)

Changi has seen a considerable increase in passengers in recent years – from 55.4 million in 2015 to 65.6 million in 2018. Terminal 4 opened in 2017 and T1 has been expanded, raising the airport’s total capacity to 85 million passengers per annum by this year, and to 90 million per year by 2024. Meanwhile, the construction of a new Terminal 5, which will be the size of all of the current four terminals put together and able to handle 50 million people per year, is also in the pipeline, with an estimated completion date in the early 2030s.

According to Ivan Tan, group senior vice-president of corporate and marketing communications at Changi airport, the Jewel is projected to receive 40 to 50 million total visitors in the first year. On a long-term basis, as many as 20 million international visitors are expected to visit the Jewel annually.

Practical matters

Assuming you are not already holidaying in Singapore, the complex offers several features that make it easy to visit. If you have luggage, there are storage facilities, and if you need a bed, the on-site Yotelair offers stays from four hours upwards (see our review at businesstraveller.com/tried-and-tested). If you simply want to freshen up before you fly, Yotelair also has three shower cabins equipped with toiletries and towels that can be booked by the hour.

There are early check-in facilities on level 1 comprising four manned counters, six self-service check-in kiosks and eight bag drops. Currently, 26 airlines offer early check-in services, including Singapore Airlines, Air China, ANA and Qantas. Opposite this area is the 150-seat Changi Lounge (also reviewed on our website), which provides refreshments, comfortable seating, co-working space, showers and business facilities.

Meanwhile, to enhance sea-air connectivity and support Singapore as a cruise hub in the region, Changi is planning a transfer service to cruise and ferry passengers flying into Singapore. Luggage will also be delivered from their arriving flight to their departing vessel.

The Jewel has more than 280 retail, food and drink outlets from both Singapore and around the world. About half of the tenants are local brands, including Supermama, which sells souvenirs and porcelain items designed in Singapore and made in Japan, and the Cookie Museum, where gourmet flavours range from lavender to laksa. Some 60 per cent of the outlets are new to Changi, with many being new to Singapore as well.

Over 30 per cent of tenants in the Jewel are eateries. Homegrown brands include Irvins X Salted Egg for salted egg-flavoured snacks; the Rich and Good Cake Shop, with multi-flavoured Swiss rolls; and Violet Oon Singapore, for local Peranakan cuisine. International brands include Shake Shack and the largest Starbucks flagship store in Singapore. On level B2, there’s a food court with selected outlets operating on extended hours.

Shang Social, the first standalone non-hotel dining concept from the Shangri-La Group, has also opened in the Jewel. The 220-seat restaurant boasts three Chinese cuisines – Cantonese, Huaiyang and Sichuan – with a formal dining area, a bar and the “Mrkt” for more casual communal dining.

So next time you have a stopover in Singapore, it’s certainly worth factoring in some time to see its new “Jewel in the crown” for yourself.

Hotel news

A property so famous it spawned an entire brand of hotels – 14 and counting – that is now part of Accor, Raffles Singapore reopened last month after a two-year renovation. Its famous Arcade has also been revamped, featuring a Raffles Boutique, Ah Teng’s Café, contemporary gallery Art Matters, the Great Room co-working space, and, on level 2, the legendary Long Bar (yes, where the Singapore Sling was created). The AC Boutique showcases independent Singapore-based designers, and there are also Leica and Rimowa stores.  Dining options include Butcher’s Block steakhouse and Burger and Lobster’s flagship Singapore restaurant. Jubilee Hall has been converted into the new 300-guest Jubilee Ballroom, with all of the other event spaces also refreshed.

Also with a historic slant, the 157-room Capitol Kempinski opened in October last year following an extensive restoration by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Richard Meier of the 1930 neoclassical-style Capitol Building and Venetian Renaissance-style Stamford House (1904).

Close to Raffles is the 342-room Andaz, which opened in late 2017. Part of the Duo Singapore, a mixed-use complex in the Ophir-Rochor district, its rooms were designed by André Fu.

The well-known Swissotel the Stamford has completed a refurbishment of all of its guestrooms, which number a whopping 1,252, and its executive lounge, while its sister property, the Fairmont Singapore, has also undergone a revamp.

On Robertson Quay is Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ M Social Singapore; the boutique Warehouse hotel, housed in a renovated godown building; and the 225-room Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay, which opened in late 2017 on the site of the former Gallery hotel. Meanwhile, sister property the Intercontinental Singapore has completed a year-long renovation, with Peranakan influences emphasised, particularly in the main tower of the hotel and the Heritage Wing, inspired by the city’s shophouse architecture of the 1920s.

The Riverview hotel has been rebranded as the Four Points by Sheraton Singapore, while Sofitel Singapore City Centre, set above Tanjong Pagar MRT station, opened in late 2017 and is the city’s third Sofitel. Also in Tanjong Pagar is a property from IHG brand Six Senses – the boutique Duxton – with sister property the Maxwell located nearby in Chinatown.

Lastly, Lyf Funan Singapore, part of the Ascott Limited’s new co-living brand (“lyf” is pronounced “life”), is opening this month in the heart of the Civic and Cultural District. The 279-unit property is part of the Funan development, which also includes a mall offering indoor and outdoor cycling routes, rock climbing, a gym, cinema and theatre.

Loading comments...

Search Flight

See a whole year of Reward Seat Availability on one page at SeatSpy.com

The cover of the Business Traveller April 2024 edition
The cover of the Business Traveller April 2024 edition
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below