one-north: Talent Central

one-north

Fusionopolis – Solaris (Photo by Albert Lim)

Question: Where would you find the largest concentration of Singapore’s best and brightest?

Answer: Quite possibly at one-north, Singapore’s Research and Development (R&D) mini-city along North Buona Vista Road. Throw a stone and you will more than likely hit one of the thousands of research scientists working in the labs there.

A few years ago when I was working at a company located close to one-north, my colleagues and I would occasionally drive over to have lunch at one of its dining spots. I have to admit that coming from the decidedly low-tech transportation industry, we did feel a wee bit intimidated sharing the same lunch spaces with the Mensa types that populate one-north.

THE LOWDOWN

one-north (lower case please) is a state-of-the-art R&D hub cum business park cum education and training centre cum living space. Named for Singapore’s position 1 degree north of the equator, the self-contained mini-city is something of a combination of Silicon Valley and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. Unlike the Valley’s organic nature however, one-north has been meticulously master-planned, as is typical of most things in Singapore.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Connexis and Symbiosis

First conceptualized in 1991, the dedicated facility is the lynchpin in the government’s grand and very gung-ho plan to catapult Singapore to the forefront of science and technology, particularly in the burgeoning field of biomedical science. The hub was designed by high-profile architectural consultant Zaha Hadid, and is being developed over a 20 year time span at an estimated cost of S$15 billion. The facilities are located over a 200 hectare (2 km square) site designed to accommodate over 130,000 staffers, working in either public or private organisations focused on research.

During the work week the mini-city hums from thousands of researchers beavering away on all manner of cutting-edge projects. From cancer research to nano-technology computing to visual effects artistry on Hollywood blockbusters, the amount of talent and brain-power concentrated in the area is surely impressive.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Sandcrawler

one-north was officially launched in 2001, and the first buildings were completed in 2003. More than 10 years later the all-in-one R&D hub has already made waves in the scientific world, lauded as a success story and laying claim to a number of world-class breakthroughs.

The one-north mini-city is divided into 7 precincts, however its 3 core sections are:

  • Biopolis – biomedical and medicine related research hub
  • Fusionopolis – research hub for technology and engineering (officially termed Info-communications Technology or ICT) and media, and
  • Mediapolis – for all things digital media-related.

Other supporting precincts are Nepal Hill for training and development; Pixel, an education facility, and JTC Launchpad @ one-north, an incubator for start-ups. To ensure work life balance one-north also boasts a host of dining, recreational and entertainment facilities within the core complexes, and in the larger area there are also 2 malls, and housing options such as serviced apartments, condominiums and a hotel. With just about everything available in one-north, I wouldn’t be surprised if the research talent we’ve attracted to our shores never have to leave their labs and one-north at all.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Sandcrawler

VISITING

The buildings in one-north all sport thematic names, which while clever is more than a little confusing, especially for hapless taxi drivers. To help you navigate the area and see how the mini-city has taken shape over the last decade, listed here are the core R&D buildings in one-north:

  1. Biopolis: This is where cutting edge (and sometimes controversial) stem-cell research takes place, along with other ground-breaking biomedical research in infectious diseases, cancer and other ills. Biopolis currently has 13 buildings:
    • Phase 1 (2003): Nanos, Genome, Helios, Chromos, Proteos, Matrix and Centros
    • Phase 2 (2006): Neuros and Immunos
    • Phase 3 (2011): Synapse and Amnios
    • Phase 4 (2014): Proctor and Gamble’s Innovation Centre (P&G SgIC)
    • Phase 5 (2014): Nucleos
  2. Fusionopolis: The buildings in the ICT research hub are:
    • Phase 1 (2008): Connexis (South and North) and Symbiosis
    • Phase 2B (2010): Solaris
    • Phase 3 (2013): Nexus
    • Phase 4 (2014): Walt Disney Lucas Film’s Sandcrawler Building
    • Phase 5 (2014): Galaxis
    • Phase 2A (2014 & 2015): Innovis, Kinesis and Synthesis
  3. Mediapolis: For digital media production and development:
    • (2014): Infinite Studios
    • (2015): MediaCorp

For those of us not working or living in the mini-city, the main reason to visit one-north’s core areas would be for its dining options. The area is home to a number of quality cafes (caffeine = brain fuel) and more than a few decent restaurants. Some interesting ones are:

one-north

The Lawn Cafe

  • The Lawn Café (Biopolis Nanos #01-07) attracts the health-conscious crowd with its grilled meat salad bowls
  • Raj Restaurant (Biopolis Centros #01-03) is well-established in Little India, and its outlet here is frequented by the many Indian and British expats working in one-north
  • Long Black Café (Biopolis Centros #01-02) serves connoisseur-grade coffee and café fare, a crowd favourite
  • Infuzi (Biopolis Chromos #01-01) is a more upmarket restaurant offering “fine European” cuisine, good if you want to get away from the crowds
  • Parkway@one-north (Biopolis Chromos #01-02) is probably not affiliated to the famed Parkway Thai restaurant of old, in spite of the similar sounding name. No matter as its modern Thai fare seems to be popular with the lunch time crowd

    https://www.facebook.com/weBreadsg

    Long Black Cafe

  • Bodacious Bar and Bistro (Biopolis P&G SgIC building) is a relative newcomer to the village. Started by the folks of Long Black Café to offer proper meal offerings, it was still pretty quiet when we visited although it seemed like a nice place to kick back in after work
  • WeBread (Biopolis P&G SgIC building #01-02) is an interesting looking quiet little place, serving simple homemade fare
  • Penang Place (Fusionopolis Connexis #B1-20/24) is a large restaurant that gets really crowded. Almost everyone is there for the eat-all-you-want buffet spread of Penang favourites
  • Rong Hua Bak Kut Teh (Fusionopolis Connexis #02-13) for that firm local favourite – pork rib soup

    one-north

    Bodacious Bar and Bistro

  • Across North Buona Vista Road you also have the charming Rochester Park featuring restaurants set in lovely conserved colonial houses. The restaurants suffer from the secluded location however, and only the Goodwood Park Hotel’s Min Jiang Chinese restaurant and the North Border American Bar and Grill have survived from the original raft of restaurants that opened in 2006.
  • Rochester Park is also home to Singapore’s “best looking Starbucks”, in a 2-storey Black-and-White colonial house next to Rochester Mall. The cafe is popular with students from the nearby learning institutions though so you’ll have to fight them for a much-hogged table.one-north
one-north

Never knew Yoda had claws on his feet

Other attractions: You can visit the Sky Garden on the 21st floor of the Symbiosis building in Fusionopolis. Although there are security gate posts at the entrances of all the offices and lab buildings, you can exchange your identity card for a visitor pass and proceed up to enjoy a vantage view of the southern coast.

Over at Lucasfilms’s gleaming Sandcrawler Building (inspired by the giant fortresses-on-wheels in the Star Wars movies) you can also explore the lovely atrium garden. Find you must try the statue of Yoda, Star Wars’ Grand Master of the Jedi Order.

LOCATION

Off North Buona Vista Road, between Commonwealth Avenue and Ayer Rajah Ave.

HOW MUCH TIME

You can drive through the area in under 15 minutes if you just want a look-see at the architecturally acclaimed main research buildings. Far better though to stop and have coffee or drinks or a meal within the one-north complexes in the company of uber talents.

TIDBITS

  • The Fusionopolis building names were picked from a contest held in 2008 which attracted close to 1600 entries. Winning entries were submitted by engineers, students, a film producer, and even a housewife.one-north
  • Indian movie goers may find that some of the buildings in one-north look familiar, as Hindi movie De Dana Dan, which was filmed in Singapore, featured shoots at Fusionopolis.
  • Zaha Hadid also designed the head-turning 1,715 unit d’Leedon condominium along Farrer Road.
  • In 2002 Singapore’s National Science and Technology Board (NSTB) was renamed to the more hip-sounding Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), to highlight the country’s new research emphasis. A*STAR’s many agencies are all housed within Fusionopolis.

    one-north

    Prof. Jackie Ying

  • An example of the calibre of global talent Singapore has attracted to the biomed industry and working in one-north is Prof. Jackie Ying, Executive Director of the A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. Prof. Ying is a 48 year old Taiwanese native and a Princeton University Ph.D. scholar, who interestingly converted to Islam in Singapore.
  • one-north is not without its detractors. While the generous research grants have attracted big name scientists (“whales”), some such as pre-eminent cancer research couple Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins have left citing the country’s infamous red tape, as well as disillusionment with the centre’s approach and the pressure to demonstrate commercial results.
  • One of A*STAR’s talents recently made the news for the wrong reasons: Bright young scholar scientist Dr Eng Kai Er, who is employed at A*STAR in virus research, spoke out about having to serve a 6 year bond, never mind that she enjoyed over S$1 million in scholarship monies. She also railed against her work, describing her scientific research as “narcissistic, masturbatory work”. Ouch.
  • In case you’re marvelling at how all the buildings sport so much lovely greenery and think that Singapore is so environmentally conscious, the truth is that government buildings have to incorporate greenery and ecological features according to government guidelines (in keeping with the country’s tagline of “A City in a Garden”), while private developers enjoy hefty incentives to incorporate green features in their buildings.
  • A friend of mind took a cab to Metropolis, an office building on the periphery of one-north. The cabbie could not make out what she meant by “Metropolis”, but understood where she wanted to go to when she pronounced it the local way: Metro-po-lis.

one-north

TAKE NOTE

  • Several buildings are still being worked on so parts of one-north are zoned construction areas.
  • If you plan to dine at any of the restaurants/cafes in the core areas do check their opening hours as not all are open throughout the weekend.

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Pinnacle@Duxton: Singapore’s public housing rises to new heights

Pinnacle@DuxtonIf you are in Chinatown or the Tanjong Pagar business district you can’t help but notice the Pinnacle@Duxton’s imposing structure dominating the skyline.

A public housing project, the 50-storey chain of 7 buildings linked by 2 skybridges contains a total of 1848 apartments. Housing over 7000 residents, this is more than 3 times the density of other public housing projects.

The massive development also comes with amenities such as a childcare centre, food court, convenience store, basketball court and even an 800 metre jogging track spanning the length of the skybridge, so this is clearly not your garden-variety public housing project.

THE LOWDOWN

Singapore’s public housing has come a long way. The Housing Development Board (HDB) was set up in 1960 to provide “quality, affordable housing” for Singapore’s burgeoning population. The first HDB high-rise mass housing projects were speedily built and were generally vanilla rectangular buildings, each about 12 stories high.

Some 50 odd years and well over one million apartments later, HDB housing has leapt light years ahead in its design and quality. The head-turning Pinnacle@Duxton is the HDB’s current jewel in the crown, the tallest and grandest project by the government housing board yet.

Early HDB flats circa 1960

Early HDB flats circa 1960 – courtesy of My Queenstown

The idea for an out-of-the-ordinary housing project was mooted over 10 years ago. In 2001 Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) held an international design contest seeking entries for a state-of-the-art public housing project. The design brief was long and the requirements complex, calling for spacious living in a high density project yet with plentiful open communal spaces and maximum views, all on a small odd-shaped plot of land only 2.5 hectares large. This being a public housing project the budget needless to say was pretty tight.

An entry from a local architectural firm formed by a young husband and wife team was picked from over 200 entries submitted from 32 countries, without the judges knowing who the entries were from. The Pinnacle@Duxton was completed in December 2009 to high acclaim, and went on to win a slew of architectural and urban design awards including one for “Best Housing Development” at the World Architectural Festival Awards in Barcelona in November 2010.

Pinnacle@Duxton is clearly a “statement” project by the HDB. The flagship project is even located in Singapore’s downtown instead of the usual “heartland” towns in the outlying areas, and sports a hip, posh sounding name after the very British sounding “Duxton Plain” neighbourhood it is in. The well-designed building boasts stunning looks and could easily be mistaken for any of the many private condominiums crowding Singapore’s upscale property areas.

Pinnacle @ Duxton

Aerial View – Photo by Darren Soh

When the apartments, or flats as they are called, were first offered for sale to eligible Singaporeans in 2004 (among other stipulations buyers must not earn above a specified income ceiling as HDB flats are subsidized), they were sold from about S$290K (approx. US$230K) for a 4 room (2 bedroom) unit, to about S$400K+ for a larger 5 room (3 bedroom) unit.

Come 2014, Pinnacle@Duxton flat owners would have satisfied the HDB’s 5 year minimum occupation period before they are able to sell their property, and many will become instant millionaires should they decide to sell their flats given Singapore’s red hot property market. The HDB public housing scheme has in fact made many Singaporeans rich from their initial HDB property purchase, and has resulted in a unique Robin Hood style Singaporean method of enriching working class citizens.

By the looks of it though many Pinnacle@Duxton home owners think their flats are priceless and no amount of millions will coax them to part with their prized homes.

[Jan-2015 Update: 2 Pinnacle flat owners have sold their flats for S$900,000 and S$918,000 in this tepid property market. That is a profit of at least a half a million dollars for the owners, and a more than 150% return on investment over the short span of 5 years].

VISITING

The 50th storey skybridge is open to the public and offers great views of the business district, southern waterfront and Mount Faber in the west. The other skybridge on the 26th floor which has the jogging track is open only to residents. For architectural buffs or anyone interested in urban planning, a visit to Pinnacle@Duxton is also a study in effective public housing and offers a glimpse into how Singaporeans live.

View from Pinnacle@Duxton

To enter the skybridge you will need to pay a S$5 entrance fee using an EZ-Link card, Singapore’s stored value payments card usually used on public transportation. If you don’t have an EZ-Link card you can buy one at the 7-Eleven store at Block 1G or at any MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station.

There is a self service payment kiosk at Block 1G on Level 1. Follow the instructions to deduct the entrance charge from your EZ-Link card. You can then take the lift to the 50th storey skybridge, where you’ll need to tap your EZ-Link card at the reader to be able to go through the turnstile at the entrance. To exit you’ll need to tap the same card again at the turnstile. You can enter and exit at any of the 7 blocks.

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 LOCATION

1 Cantonment Road
7 Buildings: Blocks 1A – 1G
Public Skybridge: 50th floor
Open from 9am – 10pm daily (except during public holidays or special events where crowds are expected and access will then be by balloting)

The self service kiosk for payment of the admission charge is at Block 1G on Level 1.

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HOW MUCH TIME

You can go up to the skybridge from Block 1G after making payment for the admission charge and walk along to Block 1A on the other end. Allocate about 45 minutes to stroll along the gardens on the skybridge, soak in the views from all angles and for multiple stops for photo ops.

TIDBITS

  • The Pinnacle@Duxton has over 1000 car park lots in a 3-level car park.
  • Pre-fabricated concrete building components were used to build the towering complex.
  • One of the requirements in the design brief for the project was that the mature trees around the site, including the jambu ayer (water apple) and nutmeg trees planted by founding father and then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew in 1984 be retained as part of the landscape.
  • More than 80% of Singapore residents live in HDB flats, of which an overwhelming majority (close to 90%) own their flats. 

 TAKE NOTE

Pinnacle@Duxton

  • Entrance to the skybridge is valid for 1 hour from the time you make the payment on your card, so you won’t be able to pre-pay the entrance fee ahead of time.
  • Each EZ-Link card can only be used to deduct the entrance fee for a single person, meaning you won’t be able to share EZ-Link cards.
  • EZ-Link cards sold at 7-Elevens cost $10 and contain a stored value of $5 (there is a $5 non-refundable charge for purchase of the card itself). EZ-Link cards sold at the MRT stations cost $12 and contain $7 in stored value. At the end of the use of your card you can get a refund of the balance of the stored value amount on your card at any MRT station.
  • Entrance to the skybridge is limited to 200 visitors a day, and you can check the Pinnacle@Duxton’s website to see if the quota for the day has been reached. The park is pretty quiet nowadays however and does not see anywhere close to 200 visitors a day unlike when it first opened in 2009. Do check however if you are going on a weekend or a public holiday, especially if it’s any occasion where there will be a fireworks display over the Marina (Chinese New Year, National Day, F1 etc where access will be balloted).

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