According to Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, the Marina Bay Sands complex was the most complicated construction project ever undertaken. The complex was designed by Canadian/Israeli/American architect Moshe Safdie, known for his use of geometric patterns and dramatic curves. These elements presented themselves in the designs of the complex and lead to many difficulties. Some of the major problem areas were the hotel’s Skypark, which is the same size as an aircraft carrier and sits across its three towers. The problems came with the curved design of the towers and the ever-present danger of the worksite being flooded. At the beginning of the project, Adelson estimated that it would cost $5.5 billion USD (S$7.5 billion) to complete the complex and he was determined to have the resort open after three years.
Even the land that the Marina Bay resort was built on presented a complication. The land is made up of 560,000 square metres of reclaimed land. The problem with this was that the building site was very unstable due to the marine clay used in the reclamation process. Engineers and construction workers used a system of diaphragm walls to create watertight enclosures for men and machines to work in. Each diaphragm wall is 1.5 metres thick and is driven 50 metres into the ground. This process of securing the building site against water ended up taking an entire year, or 33% of the project’s completion time.
With just two years remaining and no actual construction of the buildings started, Adelson turned to drastic measures. He hired 16,000 workers to construct all of the buildings simultaneously – this included the ArtScience museum, the shopping mall and the two floating platforms. To increase efficiency, he built all of the management and project offices on-site as well as the world’s largest on-site canteen.
The final major hurdle faced by engineers was the design of the towers. Each tower is made up of two parts, one that stands perfectly vertical and a second that curves as it goes upwards. The problem with the curved building can be illustrated through domino tiles. What happens when you knock over the first tile? Each subsequent tiles is knocked over. Engineers had to quickly devise a way to hold up the curved tower, otherwise the weight of it would knock down the standing tower. They devised a plan that involved temporary support struts at intervals between the two parts of the tower, as well as tension cables that run down the length of the curved tower. Ultimately, they had to remove the struts to maintain the aesthetic of the building but they decided that the tension cables needed to become a permanent part of the structure.
Impressively, the Marina Bay Sands hotel opened its doors in April of 2010. The project had taken more than the allotted three years, but considering the labour and economic troubles it had faced along the way, it is impressive that it was completed as quickly as it was.