The stepped waterfront plaza along Queen Elizabeth Walk.; The stepped waterfront plaza along Queen Elizabeth Walk.;

Empress Place and Esplanade Park, Singapore

Reconnecting people to heritage spaces

Arup, with COX Architecture and Architects 61, were appointed in 2013 to design key sections of the historic waterfront known as Empress Place and Esplanade Park. This project intended to achieve Singapore’s vision to transform the Civic District into an integrated arts and culture precinct, enhancing the public domain. As the two adjacent sites accommodate heritage buildings turned cultural centres and neighbour iconic landmarks, the Urban Redevelopment Authority identified that enhancing the attractiveness and connectivity were integral to realising the vision of bridging old and new.

For Arup, this patchwork was a multidisciplinary undertaking – coordinating teams from civil, structural, geotechnical, maritime, mechanical and electrical engineering; transport and infrastructure planning; and lighting design. To time the inauguration of the transformed district with the Republic’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2015, we streamlined construction processes, optimised resources and considered the needs of different stakeholders. In doing so, our measured approach to the physical alterations of spaces helped to stitch together an urban park steeped in Singapore’s history.

Project Summary


1/2 of Anderson Bridge, St. Andrew's Road and Connaught Drive returned to pedestrians

90taverage weight of each of the eight transplanted rain trees

10,000people capacity on Empress Lawn

Prioritised pedestrians over private vehicles

In 2015, authorities unveiled a ‘car-lite Singapore’ concept in a move towards more sustainable transportation modes. At the Civic District, this translated to calming traffic and creating a shared zone to return road equity to pedestrians. We worked to assure stakeholders that lane reductions would not affect visitation to all the cultural venues and impact traffic in other areas. We also needed to show that some pedestrianised paths could reconvert to accommodate the annual F1 race.

Today, Connaught Drive is halved from four lanes to two, and is limited to buses and service vehicles, while 50% of Fullerton Road on Anderson Bridge has been turned into a footpath. Selective stretches of the Civic District are also interim footpaths with removable pavement pallets and temporary planting that can transform to roads when needed. These pedestrian-focussed enhancements, made possible through extensive traffic modelling and simulations, demonstrates Arup’s approach to equitable walkability.


Keeping nature and heritage alive

Realigning heritage trees, each averaging 40 years old, was key to creating an unobstructed outdoor park for people to experience within the built-up city centre. In what was easily one of this project’s greatest engineering feats, Arup worked with a team of arborists to find innovative ways to transplant eight 90-tonne trees.

Watch our journey to transplant the heritage rain trees in this video. Video credit: National Parks Board, Singapore

We devised a bespoke transplantation system to reduce the impact on the trees’ health, which circumvented the high expense and complexity of the original plan to core through trees and bore micro piles into the Railway Protection Zone. By comparison, Arup’s minimally-invasive system was simple: pipes were horizontally jacked under the tree to create a raft from which the crane could gingerly transport the tree with its attached root ball to its new home. The transplanted trees were also stabilised with stumps secured to the concrete rafts.

Community events held at the Civic District since opening 2015 Community events held at the Civic District since opening 2015

Wired up spaces for public events

In the neighbourhood of well-established event spaces in Marina Bay and the Padang, the idea was to update and transform Empress Lawn and Esplanade Park into sites that are attractive for event organisers to flexibly set up experiences, pop-ups and kiosks. To revitalise these spaces, our mechanical and electrical engineering, and audio-visual teams worked together to create Overground Boxes that allow organisers to simply ‘plug and play’, as opposed to tapping on external generators for power. Amenities such as restrooms, a children’s playground and mobile phone-charging benches were also installed.

We are proud to have worked with experienced partners to deliver a revitalised Civic District for people from all walks of life, achieving the project’s intended vision. Beyond the integrated arts and culture district, locals and visitors can also seamlessly experience an area that captures Singapore’s rich heritage and snapshots of yesteryear, and create new memories at these rejuvenated public spaces. ”

Tan Yoong Heng Singapore Office Leader

Lighting defines the after-dark experience of the precinct. To encourage activity at night, our lighting designers took a site-sensitive approach to rebalance light intensities, creating a soft ambience for seamless and comfortable wayfinding. A combination of strategies including low-level lighting enhanced visibility and connectivity, while architectural details of historic landmarks were carefully highlighted and integrated into the lighting plan. Upgrades to energy-efficient LED lights also result in lower running and maintenance costs in the long run. 

Car-Free Sunday SG, an initiative to encourage a ‘car-lite’ lifestyle, and Singapore Night Festival, an arts and culture event, were among key public event since the opening of the precinct in 2015.

Creating relationship between people and water

The architectural concept sought to bring people closer to a waterfront experience, and was inspired by the Chand Baori stepwell located in Abhaneri, a village in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Despite the complex step design extending and suspending over the river, Arup streamlined construction processes: modular pre-cast pieces were constructed off-site and fitted like a jigsaw puzzle onto piles to form the plaza. This process saved time and the trouble of casting the steps in-situ using a series of complicated formwork. Located at Queen Elizabeth Walk, the stepped waterfront plaza is now an inextricable feature along the Singapore River, leading and flowing into the Republic’s skyline.