As economic development and urbanisation skyrockets, APAC countries are now leading lights when it comes to innovative public spaces.
An early and firm favourite can be found in Seoul where an elevated highway was removed to rehabilitate the heavily polluted Cheonggyecheon Stream.
Opened to the public since 2005, a walk along this 5.8 km creek is a serene experience despite being just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in the city.
The quietude is courtesy of being more than 4.6 metres below street level. As you stroll along the river, there are small waterfalls and nearly two dozen overhead bridges, making for a romantic spot beloved by couples.
Seoul native, SoYeon Ham likes to take visitors to the spot. “It’s rare to have such thing in the middle of a city. It is beautiful and refreshing,” she says.
“It starts from Gwanghwamoon which is a historic area and financial district, and you can end the walk along the stream at Dongdaemoon which is a shopping district,” Ham suggests.
A decade on, it’s become a fact of daily life in downtown Seoul, and serves a variety of functions, from tourist attraction to park space to art gallery, said Korea scholar, Matt VanVolkenburg who told the Guardian.
“The vegetation and trees along the stream have grown in, and as you move away from its source, it becomes more ‘natural’ looking,” he added.
Closer to home, Bangkok’s Asiatique and Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay offer two very different models of public space.
Both started receiving visitors in 2012, but that’s where the similarity ends.
The award-winning Gardens by the Bay is the most famous result of Singapore’s continued mission to raise the quality of urban life by enhancing greenery throughout the island.
Constructed on reclaimed land, the 250-acre waterfront garden is a marvel of design and technology.
A focus on green technology has led to the whole structure incorporating sustainable features when it comes to energy and water use. Solar panels at the apex of these 16-storey structures are used to power the nightly light and sound displays.
The lush Gardens now house over 1 million plants, gathered from every continent except Antarctica, and has become a must-see tourist destination.
More than 30 million visitors have been greeted by the brilliantly lit and instantly recognisable ‘Supertrees Grove’, man-made funnel-shaped canopies of steel branches set atop steel and concrete trunks.
Amanda Lim recommends taking a walk through the gardens in the evening. “It is a good place to unwind after a long day, especially during Friday nights or weekends,” she posted online.
Asiatique in Bangkok, on the other hand, is an open-air riverfront retail and entertainment complex, built on the remains of a colonial-era dockside trading company.
The East Asiatic Company, one of several European firms trading with Siam during the reign of King Rama V, owned port facilities and warehouses along the Chao Phraya river.
Today, nearly 5 acres of the 11.5-acre site has been fully developed into four thematic districts, comprising performance, fashion and lifestyle, F&B and a waterfront promenade with retail, restaurants, a large space for major events and Asiatique Sky, the city’s tallest Ferris wheel.
Bursting with an exuberant style, Asiatique comes alive at night. The open-air night market is a highlight, with a further 1,500 shops and stalls and 40 bars and restaurants, most of which are housed in the former warehouses which charmingly retain their frontages.
Amidst the neon lights and riverfront breeze, visitors can chance upon traditional Thai performances, Muay Thai fights and cabaret shows guaranteed to provide a spectacle not easily forgotten.
Malaysian visitor, Hanna Hussein listed Asiatique as her favourite spot in Bangkok.
“It is quite a popular place to chill out especially in the evening when it lights up,” she wrote in the New Straits Times.
A prime example of adaptive reuse of derelict urban facilities, Asiatique offers a fun way to reimagine city spaces, breathing new public and economic life into once abandoned areas.
The secret of success for all these public realm projects is a true understanding of the unique character of each city, which results in responsive designs that can truly bring out the best of what is at hand.
The public spaces in Sydney’s Barangaroo, the latest APAC star, captures this spirit perfectly.
Designed to be Australia’s newest financial district, Barangaroo is an urban renewal project of a container wharf that had fallen on hard times.
Although much of the district is still in progress, the Barangaroo Reserve, a spectacular harbourside park built on top of an old concrete container terminal, was inaugurated in 2015.
Around 10,000 blocks of sandstone replicate the natural edge of the harbour, allowing total freedom to walk to the water’s edge. The blocks were excavated from the site of the new underground cultural centre.
The park traverses a series of terraces through bushland settings, with a large grassy area at the top to accommodate special events.
The 15-acre naturalistic parkland traces Sydney’s pre-European settlement shoreline, recreating coves, mimicking the rocky seaside, and featuring 75,000 plants native to Sydney.
Barangaroo takes its name from an influential fisherwoman from the Cammeraygal tribe who resisted the first European new comers in Sydney.
The project honours the site’s pre-colonial past as an important indigenous hunting and fishing ground which dates back 6,000 years, amidst a wider area that has been occupied for at least 14,000 years before the coming of European settlers.