Sentosa Island

27
Feb

2013

Singapore Cable Car – 360 Cities

Thanks to one of our readers, we been sent a really cool link which showcases the Singapore Cable Car in 360 degrees panorama view. Given the quality of the virtual reality photography, zooming in and out and panning around the cable car almost feels a bit surreal — it’s as if you’re actually riding on the gondola itself! Enjoy!


Sentosa Cable Car in Singapore



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04
Jun

2012

Angry Birds Cable Car Debuts

Big lineups at the Angry Birds Cable Car this weekend! Image from Darrensim.com

So a couple weeks ago, we found out that the Singapore Cable Car was being retrofitted and turned into an Angry Birds themed cable car. This weekend, the system finally opened to the public. For a look into the celebrations and the system’s first run, check out the video posted below.



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06
Apr

2011

Singapore’s Sentosa Island Gondola, Part 2 – The Design

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Sentosa Island Cable Car in Singapore. Special thanks to Andrew Seh and Dominic Teo, who gave me the tour, answered questions and provided some insight into this system. All images by Steven Dale.

To start with Part 1, click here.

Aesthetically, the Sentosa Island Gondola is a tale of two systems. It’s schizophrenic in its physicality, towing the line between stark utilitarianism and modern, urban chic. Never however, do those two aspects converge effectively. It’s as though there are two halves to its personality, and neither ever seem to want to meet the other.

The first half of that personality is functional, practical and to be perfectly honest – ugly. Interior station architecture is loud, dark and cramped. This is a shame as the exteriors of the stations are perfectly pleasant and acceptable. One moves from beautiful restaurant terraces and balconies into a space that makes one feel as though they’ve left a resort and entered a mechanic’s garage.

The Mount Faber Station Interior.

This is particularly true of the intermediary station which rests on the 15th floor of Harbourfront Tower Two. From the outside, it’s gleaming, modern and urban. One purchases a ticket in a marble atrium and is whisked up via private elevator to the 15th floor only to enter a room devoid of light, amenity and charm.

From this . . .

. . . to this . . .

. . . to this.

It has the exact same appeal as the undecorated floor of a financial district office tower. No attempt has been made to hide the guts.

Let’s make clear that this isn’t the fault of the technology. That may sound like I’m acting as a gondola apologist, but hear me out. We know that the infrastructure and architecture are somewhat separate from one another. As such, it cuts both ways: Station architecture can be beautiful and it can be ugly. For better or for worse, that’s not the choice of the technology, that’s the choice of the system owner.

Having said that, urban cable systems are more and more having to deal with issues of architecture and urban form, and the Sentosa Gondola frankly fails to live up to those expectations.

This is one of the biggest complaints I have about the system. Given the money that was spent on upgrades and new foundations, one expects some money to have been spent on station interiors. As mentioned yesterday, this system is almost exclusively marketed via its arguably excessive VIP cabins, yet it’s hard to imagine any VIP choosing to board the system in such austere environs.

This austerity isn’t helped by the decision to retain the hulking concrete support infrastructure for the system’s two intermediary towers. The decision to do so was a financial one and completely justifiable. So much money was being spent on other station and tower upgrades, it’s hard to rationalize new towers for purely aesthetic reasons.

Reuse of old concrete towers was a strong financial decision, but a poor aesthetic one.

At the same time, I think an opportunity was missed here.

MDG systems with little grade change typically require more towers to span such a long distance – the Lisbon gondola, for example has 9 intermediary towers distributed along less than 1km length. But the unique topography and the genius of using a skyscraper as an intermediary tower, eliminated that need.

Here was an opportunity to really demonstrate how little space such a system could occupy. Instead we’re left with towers that make the system feel much, much older than it actually is. It’s a totally understandable situation, but a shame nonetheless.

From an urban design perspective, the system shines around Harbourfront Tower Two. The area is completely urban. Buses, subways, offices, roads, pedestrian causeways and shopping all converge in one bustling area swarming with people, cars and transit. Here, the gondola is but one among many.

In the Harbourfront area, the gondola feels like a natural part of the environment and thoroughly modern.

At Harbourfront Tower Two the gondola is just a part of the world. As the surrounding architecture is a mass of modern steel and glass, the gondola appropriates that image. Because the area feels like the future, so does the gondola.

But that changes as soon as one passes from Harbourfront Tower Two into the port area, leading towards Sentosa Island. There, the system takes on a clunky, old-world feel. As the port is industrial, the gondola feels industrial. The same occurs as one approaches Sentosa Island. Surrounded by theme park rides and amenities, the gondola transforms itself into a theme park ride – nothing more.

In the port area, the gondola appropriates the image of dirty, old and industrial.

This was a totally unexpected experience for me. More often than not, a cable system is located in one specific type of environment. We associate it with that environment and not with others – ski resorts being the prime example. And yet here we have a situation where a gondola is passing through a variety of different urban forms all within close proximity to one another.

The gondola wasn’t imposing itself on the urban form, it was instead reflecting it and appropriating it. It was a blank canvas whose perceived function changed based upon the environment it passed through.

Buses don’t do that. Put a bus in a theme park and it’s still a bus. That’s not a criticism of buses nor a praise of gondolas. It’s a phenomenon that – admittedly – confuses me and one I’d love Gondola Project readers to chime in on.

For researchers and aficionados of urban gondolas, this is the importance of Sentosa. The system juxtaposes itself against itself and its urban environment by passing through several dramatically different urban forms in a short period of time. That allows one to quickly understand its place in the urban world.

Ultimately then, the lessons of Sentosa are more philosophical than technical. It teaches us that a theme park ride does have a place in a dense urban world and suggests a way forward to realizing that image.

Each gondola is also equipped with cup holders. I just wanted to throw that in there because it's amazing. Why don't buses and subways have that?



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05
Apr

2011

Singapore’s Sentosa Island Gondola, Part 1 – The Essentials

 

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Sentosa Island Cable Car in Singapore. Special thanks to Andrew Seh and Dominic Teo, who gave me the tour, answered questions and provided some insight into this system. All images by Steven Dale.

The Sentosa Island Gondola is one of the world’s oldest urban gondola transit systems. Commonly referred to as the Sentosa Island Cable Car (it’s an MDG gondola), the system is utterly normal in most respects but was a pioneer in two very important ways: It was the first system to ever span a major port/harbour and; it was the first to ever implement an intermediary station within the building envelope of a skyscraper.

The Sentosa Cable Car was the first in the world to locate an intermediary station on the upper floor of a skyscraper. The intermediary station is located on the 15th floor of a harbor office tower.

Originally opened in 1974, the system was designed as a means to carry locals and tourists from Mount Faber on Singapore’s south shore, across the harbour to Sentosa Island – then a growing recreation destination. As Sentosa developed into a major resort destination, connections to the island became increasingly important. Now, the cable car competes with a boardwalk and APM system.

As a result, the vast majority of users are tourists. Andrew Seh, Assistant Manager of the cable car estimates that of the roughly 2,000 daily riders the system carries, approximately 80% are tourists. This shouldn’t surprise. As a round-trip ticket on the cable car is $26 SGD, locals wishing to visit Sentosa would logically opt for either the boardwalk or monorail options. The Sentosa system is therefore pure Toy for Tourists.

Sentosa Island in the background.

Nevertheless, the system was popular enough to warrant an entire overhaul and the system was closed last year for 9 months in order to upgrade and rehabilitated the line. Typically an overhaul such as this should only take around 6 months, but system planners opted to upgrade the outdated BDG system with a contemporary MDG line.

Gondolas soar over the Singapore Harbor as a cruise ship waits below.

As an MDG system requires one single cable to provide both support and propulsion, the pressures and tensions on that cable – as well as on stations and towers – are greater than those found in a standard BDG system (where one cable provides support and the other propulsion).

As a result, the technology switch involved significant changes to pre-existing towers and stations, with new concrete foundations poured throughout – hence, the 9 month rebuild period.

This change also meant that while the electro-mechanical components of the gondola were only $22m SGD (~18m USD), the entire rebuild cost $36m SGD (~26m USD), a 63%premium.

Even still, at roughly $21m USD per kilometer (all in) the technology proves itself competitive with other fixed cost transit systems.

As stated earlier, this system is utterly common. It’s statistics are nothing impressive and don’t cause anyone any large degree of pause:

  • Capacity of 2,000 pphpd – but can be increased to 2,800 with a flick of a switch.
  • Standard operating speed of 11 km/hr. The system can run at 18 km/hr, but the touristic nature of the system implores operators to maintain a speed that allows riders to get value for their money.
  • 1.7 km long.
  • Can operate safely in 50 km/hr winds.
  • Vehicle capacity of 8.

What does give pause is the unique 7-star VIP cabin.

When this system reopened last fall, media attention focused almost exclusively on the VIP cabin as though it were the second coming of the Messiah. As someone who actually got to ride the VIP cabin, I’d like to suggest the attention was a little bit overdrawn.

The VIP cabin is nice, sure, but the amenities are rather thin. The VIP cabin is the sole one in the fleet equipped with a glass-bottomed floor and studded with Swarovski crystals. And whereas the other cabins have seating for 8 on a pretty standard bench configuration, the VIP cabins only seat four – but in rather plush black, leather seats. Ipod dock and champagne chiller are also included.

But that’s about it.

VIP cabin, interior.

Booking the VIP cabin is not for cheap. At $888 SGD (~$700 USD), this is easily one of the most expensive gondola rides we’ve ever seen and heard of. Granted, that $888 includes champagne for four, dinner for four at the Mount Faber restaurant and unlimited and exclusive use of the VIP cabin. But even with dinner and champagne, the price is steep – particularly as the cabins aren’t equipped with air conditioning, a confusing oversight which no one could adequately explain to me.

Nevertheless, cable car officials informed me that each month a few groups do actually choose to book the VIP cabinno doubt as a means to get to the Sentosa Island Casino where the reckless spending of money is considered an art and a virtue.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the urban design implications of the Sentosa Island Gondola.

 

Click here to read Part 2.



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25
Mar

2011

Sentosa Gondola Transit

The Sentosa Island Gondola. Image by flickr user Twicepix.

Unfortunately, no post today due to travel.

I did, however, want to take a few minutes and tell everyone to check back here next week. We’ll have original images and documentation of the rebuilt Sentosa Island Gondola in Singapore.

As regular readers know, it’s an important system but there’s not a whole lot of readily-available, first-hand research on it.

Hopefully we can rectify that situation.



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13
Dec

2009

Cable Propelled Transit Is Not Plug and Play

Sentosa Island Urban Gondola

Sentosa Island Urban Gondola

To use CPT properly you have to be creative, original, daring and ultimately a little bit mad. That madness is good and important, especially nowadays when cities viciously compete for talent and tourists. Homogenous, cookie-cutter cities no longer make the grade. People want remarkable.

Light Rail (LRT), Subway and Bus technologies are useful (sometimes) but they are not remarkable. They are common; Plug and Play. No planner, policy-maker or politician really has to think about how the technologies work or how to use them. Just throw down some tracks and you’re done. As a result, they tend to be one-size-sorta-kinda-fits-all. They’re technologies that aim for the average. They do most things alright, but rarely exceptionally and never cheaply.

Cable, on the other hand, is not one-size-sorta-kinda-fits-all. Cable is a custom technology, capable of delivering on the exact wants of a city. And it delivers that custom solution with a higher level of service than traditional transit technologies and for a fraction of the price. It can be used in such a variety of different ways, in such a variety of different environments, to accomplish such a variety of different goals that it requires deep creativity and deep thinking to implement. But the rewards for that creativity and deepness are vast.

Consider the above picture of urban gondolas terminating in a skyscraper at Sentosa Island, Singapore. Whatever madman stood up in city council chamber and said “let’s put the station in a skyscraper” deserves our accolades if for no other reason than he had the guts to say it. We should be celebrating innovation, creativity and diversity not strangling it.

So here then is your challenge, creative cities of the world: Stop just calling yourselves creative and actually be creative. Ask yourselves: What could we do with cable in our city? Don’t just do what everyone else does. Be yourself. Be different. Be remarkable. Be a little bit mad.

Creative Commons image by ericlbc



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Analysis / Bus / Gondola / Light Rail & Streetcars / Sentosa Island / Subway / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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