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I’ve just completed writing a modern-day version of A tale of Two Cities. One of them, as in the original work, is Paris. But unlike Dickens’ masterpiece my second city is not London but Singapore. And whereas his work was about duality, revolution and resurrection, mine has been based on delight, retailing and restoration.
I’m writing this from The Moodie Davitt Report’s Interim Dnata Lounge Bureau at Singapore Changi Airport where I’ve made a whistle-stop visit to preview the new Terminal 4, set to open late this year. My trip here came hot on the heels of a quickfire sojourn to Paris last Thursday and Friday to walk one of the world’s great restoration projects, La Samaritaine.
These are the moments I cherish most in my professional life, the chance to preview enterprises before they’re open and to hear first-hand the thinking behind them. La Samaritaine and Changi T4, two very different projects, are among the most exciting developments I have seen in my 30 years of covering this business. If DFS had, in 2016, created a magical modern-day Merchant of Venice at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS, then in Paris it is playing a pivotal role in the reincarnation of a building that holds a special place in the souls of the French capital’s citizens.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project,” says DFS Region President Europe & Middle East Eléonore de Boysson who is leading the project from her Paris base. I spoke to Eléonore and DFS Group Chairman Philippe Schaus at length about the development and there was no mistaking the combined sense of excitement, challenge and responsibility they feel about DFS’s role in reimagining this revered institution.
Together with fellow travel retail journalists, I had the privilege of a grand tour of La Samaritaine, some two years ahead of its anticipated re-opening. Clad in hard hats, workers’ boots, safety glasses and gloves (due to the amount of lead on the site), we were led up dank stairways and along walkways that ooze history but in their current state only hint at the grandeur that is to come.
Every now and again, though, glimpses of that glory became apparent. Magnificent (and original) giant wrought iron beams repainted in their original soft grey palette; balustrades that conjure up a bygone time and indeed were created in one. Original staircases that felt the step of 19th century feet now awaiting their final makeover before 21st century Parisians and international visitors alike discover this new ‘lieu de vivre’ in the City of Lights.The project is on a similarly epic scale to that at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS in Venice, where DFS did an outstanding job in combining the commercial with the cultural. Expect a similar fusion here, with a quality of retail suitably attuned to the heritage of this building.
From Paris it was a quick flit back home to London via Eurostar before flying out here to Changi for the T4 preview tour. There is so very much to talk about with this development. Its design theme is ‘fun, vibrant and positively surprising’ and that’s a pretty neat summary of what I saw.
As you can see from the photos above, T4 features an abundance of greenery. Get this, there are some 582,000 plants, trees, shrubs here and more than 340 species. The T4 greenwall external façade alone has over 16,000 plants while there are 186 large trees within the terminal; of which 160 ficus trees form the Boulevard of Trees along the boarding corridor.
There’s going to be some excellent food & beverage and shopping offers. I really like the dramatic look of Emirates Leisure Retail’s Tiger Bar
Operationally, it’s set to be one of the most consumer-friendly airports in the world, largely thanks to the end-to-end ‘Fast and Seamless Travel’ (FAST) principles that Changi Airport Group has adopted. From facial recognition software to robot cleaning ‘staff’, T4 is a showcase for ultra-modern technology, designed to enhance efficiency, raise productivity and improve the consumer experience.
But what I like even more is the focus on culture and local heritage. I urge you, when T4 opens, to visit The Heritage Zone, which features a beautiful showcase of shophouse architecture from the 1880s to the 1950s, including the rich and colourful Peranakan veneers. The highlight is a beautiful six-minute production called Peranakan Love Story displayed on a 10m x 6m LED screen across two shophouse bays. It’s beautiful, poignant and quite magical (you can see a clip of it in the video watch).
And if you’re into big digital spectaculars, you might want to hang around the security screening area longer than usual. Is this the most stress-free airport security zone in the world? I would think so. Carpeted floor and a magnificent overhead 70m x 5m ‘Immersive Wall’ featuring spectacular tourism imagery and even (below) a whimsical animated clip on suitcase screening are designed to relax passengers before they continue into the airside lounge.
Even the washrooms have been included in this tapestry of artistic and digital work. Beautifully tiled walls and commissioned art from Giles Miler underline how, with vision, even the most utilitarian aspects of an airport can enhance the traveller experience.
At the heart of T4 is a grand-scale kinetic sculpture, nicely dubbed Petalclouds, which spans 200 metres of the Central Galleria and separates the public and transit areas. Petalclouds has a mesmeric attraction as it moves gently to classical music composed for the purpose by BAFTA award-winning composer Ólafur Arnalds.
T4 is home to three physical art sculptures, all depicting a common theme of travel or aviation. Local sculptor and Cultural Medallion winner, Chong Fah Cheong, created Hey Ah Chek!, a striking bronze installation in the Departure Check-in Hall, depicting a mother and her son hailing a trishaw ride after a visit to the market.But my favourite is ‘Travelling Family’ (below), the work of Swiss sculptor Kurt Metzler, who captured the feelings of excitement and energy he felt when travelling with his family through Changi Airport.Then there’s Les Oiseaux (The Birds) by French artist, Cedric Le Borgne. Three bird sculptures, each with a different attitude, greet passengers in the Arrival and Departure Halls. Le Borgne’s larger than life birds are 3D-wire luminous characters designed to represent the different emotions one would feel at an airport.
Changi Airport Group Vice President T4 Programme Management Office Poh Li San says: “Each piece was conceptualised and designed with careful consideration as to how it would enhance the terminal’s design and architecture, weaving in a narrative that converges art and travel.”
That’s a nice turn of phrase. A convergence of art and travel. Just as La Samaritaine is a fusion of heritage and modernity, then Changi Terminal 4 is the future reimagined. Truly an inspirational tale of two cities.