THE FIRST THING THAT GREETS YOU AS YOU STEP through the front door of the new ParkRoyal Collection Marina Bay is the 13-meter-high vertical garden. Designed to imitate a classic Chinese landscape painting, silver planters signify mountains, plants verdant forests, and dangling, sculpted lights represent the cloudy sky.
The ‘Green Wall,’ as it’s known by the staff, is also a clear statement of what to expect from the rest of this hotel, which has firmly embraced biophilic design — the concept of bringing the outside inside to better connect people with nature — throughout its public areas.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the fourth floor where a sky bridge offers up a bird’s-eye view onto a spot-lit terraced forest of trees, plants and shrubbery that seem to be reaching up towards the distant skylight above.
It is all part of the S$45 million renovation and rebrand of what was formerly the Marina Mandarin by FDAT. The Singaporean design company have looked to seamlessly incorporate 370 square meters of gardens and more than 2,400 trees, shrubs and plants into noted American architect John Portman’s original neo-futuristic design.
On either side of the sky bridge, four wooden pavilions, inspired by birds’ nests, are beginning to blend into the fledgling forest. They make a great spot to sit back and soak up the garden-in-a-hotel concept, while enjoying the trill and warble of real birdsong (albeit from caged whiskered bulbuls and white-rumped shamas) and the soaring, dramatic atrium.
Biophilic design is a concept that’s been around since the 1980s and was first embraced in Singapore by the award-winning ParkRoyal on Pickering. It has since been employed by the likes of the Oasia Hotel, which features 22 species of plants on its lush exterior — but the trend is gaining traction, and chances are increasing that if a hotel looks this green on the outside, it’s got an eco heart, too.
Over in New York, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge also greets guests with a green wall and mixes natural materials and potted plants in its rooms, while in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, famed hotelier Adrian Zecha’s latest undertaking, the Azumi Setoda goes further by offering rooms with their own private garden.
Elsewhere in this region, the soon-to-open Patina Maldives, Fari Islands, is built around the concept of making a connection between its stunning setting and the 90 guest villas. Created by renowned Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan’s Studio MK27, the biophilic design features natural materials and floor-to-ceiling windows that can be fully slid back for a seamless transition between the interior and the surrounding landscape.
Meanwhile, the Six Senses Bumthang in Bhutan takes the concept to the next level, by featuring a growing sapling in each of its eight suites and villas — which are themselves built around the trees of a pine forest.
Biophilia is especially refreshing, though, in an urban hotel. ParkRoyal Collection Marina Bay’s general manager Mervyn Lim explains that the idea was to offer guests the feeling of a lush garden sanctuary: “It invites them to draw close and be in harmony with nature, take a breather, gain respite from the hectic city life.”
What’s less “city” than a farm? Peppermint, the hotel’s all-day dining venue, is flanked on one side by a wall of glass that looks out over the hotel’s urban farm, while the restaurant’s private dining rooms feel like glasshouses sitting among the lobby’s greenery. The rooftop garden is not just for show either, as it supplies 20 percent of the herbs and vegetables used in Peppermint’s kitchen. And in a further bid for sustainability, a new waste-management system transforms kitchen leftovers into nutrient-rich water for the garden.
The sustainable approach has been carried into other aspects of the hotel. All of the 583 rooms offer recycling bins, filtered water on tap, motion sensors to better regulate energy use and biodegradable amenities. Finished with natural materials and earthy tones, the spacious rooms all have the added bonus of their own balconies, something of a rarity for a city hotel, great for enjoying the impressive views over either the Padang, Suntec or Marina Bay.
Indeed, the clever use of planting and calming tones endow the whole hotel with an atmosphere of genuine peace and serenity; probably the most fitting testament to the power of this biophilic makeover.
With the pandemic strengthening people’s connection with, and appreciation for, the natural world it’s not surprising that many upcoming hotels are adding biophilic design to their plans. Twenty-twenty-three is set to bloom in this department: Banyan Tree’s Mandai Resort will offer pod-shaped treehouses, stilted to allow wildlife to pass underneath, amid the forest canopy near the Singapore Zoo. That year should also see the arrival of the new Dusit Central Park in Bangkok — a thoroughly of-the-moment revamp of one of the city’s grande dames — with its own rooftop park, and, in Australia, the green spaces and organic architecture of the Fairmont Port Douglas near the Great Barrier Reef.
It seems that around the world, nature is getting set to check in.