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Famous Architects Design Monuments to Vice in Virtuous Singapore

Michael Graves and Moshe Safdie try out some (classy) sin-city indulgences on one of the most uptight places around.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

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After a 45-year ban on casinos, Singapore is getting back into the gambling business by rolling the dice on a couple starchitects. Their mission: Keep sin classy.

So we have one casino from Moshe Safdie, the Israeli-born Boston architect most famous for designing the cubist-like Habitat 67 housing complex in Montreal and another from Michael Graves, whom you might recall from his days making teakettles for Target and, to a lesser extent, his bad (really bad) ’80s buildings.

What they’re creating aren’t just casinos; they’re “resorts.” They’re costing billions to build, and they include all sorts of un-casino-like flourishes, from a marine-life park and a luxury hostelry, to high-art installations and, hilariously, jogging paths. All of which must go a long way toward keeping visitors amused and, moreover, convincing cane-wielding Singapore that gambling can masquerade as wholesome culture.

Of the two resorts, Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands does a better — or, at least, a chichier — job of that. Never mind that it looks like a giant ironing board. (Which is actually, we’re told, a 2.5-acre “SkyPark” that “soars 170 meters above the sea” and has a public observatory, gardens, swimming pools, and the aforementioned jogging paths, because jogging on the roof of a casino is just like jogging in Central Park!) Safdie hand-selected five artists to produce some capital-A art. Here’s a piece by the late great Sol LeWitt:

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And here’s an installation by the British artist Antony Gormley, the same guy who put freakishly life-like human sculptures on the edge of Manhattan high-rises, probably making at least a few tourists think they were witnessing an only-in-New-York suicide:

And from James Carpenter, we have this blue-finned facade:

Here’s the entry to the Marina Bay Sands. Eat your heart out, Georgia O’Keefe!

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Graves’s Resorts World Sentosa feels much more like a theme park or a Potemkin Village, depending on whom you ask. It has loggias and fountains and cartoonish green copper roofs and gaming-room decor that Slate’s Witold Rybczynski describes generously as “Matisse-meets-Star Wars.” Oh, and there’s a hotel named after Graves: Michael. In the words of the breathless press release, it is “a tribute to Graves’ singular design genius.” See the singular design genius below:

But like the fake sky at the Venetian, this is all just window-dressing to distract from the real business at hand: making gobs of money. With its foray into gaming, Singapore hopes to bolster its revenue from $12.8 billion last year to $30 billion by 2015, following the lead of Macau, which surpassed Vegas as the world’s largest gambling mecca in 2006, Bloomberg writes. Singapore’s casinos have already attracted more than 3 million visitors. (Graves’s resort opened in February, Safdie’s in April.) With the foot traffic comes the inevitable unsavory behavior. Already, there are reports in this dollhouse-safe city of scams, embezzlement, and identity theft. One cashier stole $10,000 from Resorts World and gambled it away; three Europeans were charged with cheating at roulette. And so on. We wonder: Did Safdie and Graves include caning rooms?

[Marina Bay Sands images courtesy of Safdie Architects; Resorts World Sentosa images courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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