Ultra-Modern Musings

A high-tech, immersive experience in the heart of Singapore’s busiest shopping precinct blends multi-million-dollar views with history.



t Ion Orchard, a gleaming mall dominating Singapore’s most iconic shopping district, the clatter dissipates as you ascend to its upper levels. Amid the uninterrupted rhythm of urban pursuits are pockets of introspection.

The stark white Ion Art gallery, a repository of contemporary art tucked away at the mall’s fourth floor, also serves as a prelude to a different type of visual presentation. Throughout the day, a mix of local and foreign visitors are ushered into a lift, where multi-media projections glimmer on vast screens. A nutmeg tree climbs into clouds – referencing Orchard Road’s plantations of yore – as the capsule swooshes towards the 55th storey. Visitors then traverse a winding ramp to the 56th floor, where Ion Sky lies perched 218m above ground.

Opened in 2014, the observatory’s high-tech sensory journey continues into the darkened deck, where an 11-minute-long animated feature dances across the length of multiple screens. It’s a whimsical, vivid account of Singapore’s evolution from village to metropolis. As the display draws to a close, the screens slowly rise to reveal its piece de resistance 360-degree vistas of Singapore’s teeming skyline, enhanced with an Augmented Reality experience.

If you think it is a theatrical flourish, it may well be because the show was created in collaboration with local playwright and Cultural Medallion recipient Dick Lee as part of a revamp in 2017.

By downloading the Ion Sky mobile app and pointing their smartphone at the horizon from the observatory, visitors can access bite-sized facts on places of interest around Singapore. It is the past conveyed in a decidedly futuristic manner.

“ This experience shows Singaporeans do have a certain reverence for their past, which they honour through reinvention. ”

Ungggul Pramono, Ion Sky visitor

“I used to think Singaporeans were pragmatists, focused on replacing the old with the new. But this experience shows they do have a certain reverence for their past, which they honour through reinvention,” sums up Unggul Pramono, an Indonesian who recently visited the observatory.

Besides lending insights into Singapore, Ion Sky has also showcased foreign cultures. In 2018, the space was transformed into the 17th-century Palace of Versailles in France as part of an exhibition harnessing digital and virtual reality technology.

Perhaps what this mini-museum suspended in the sky proves is that when it comes to celebrating our past, it’s good to have lofty ambitions.

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