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Project in Detail

Kallang River Bishan Park

Landscape Projects - Completed designs - urban
Singapore, Republic of
Atelier Dreiseitl
World Architecture Festival 2012 - Category Winner

New Ways Family of Bonding Around the River 

Project Background

Bishan – Ang Mo Kio Park is the most popular neighbourhood park in the heartlands of Singapore. As part of a much-needed park upgrade and plans to improve the capacity of the Kallang River along the edge of the park, works were carried out simultaneously to transform the utilitarian concrete channel into a naturalised river, creating new spaces for the community to enjoy. On the surface, this is a park re-design and river rejuvenation project; but underlying this is a multi-layered holistic design that seeks a balance between functional, ecological and communal needs for a sustainable co-existence, twinned with the aim of protecting Singapore’s limited and precious freshwater asset. This project is part of Singapore’s national water agency’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters Programme, a long-term initiative to transform the country’s water bodies beyond their functions of drainage and water supply, into vibrant, new spaces for community bonding and recreation.

Like many natural rivers that ran through Singapore, Kallang River was engineered into a concrete canal to efficiently convey storm water from the rapidly urbanising satellite towns of Bishan and Ang Mo Kio in the 1960s. In 1988, the park was built around the canal but the two were never fully integrated because concrete canals convey water at high velocities during storm events but were also a safety hazard during periods of rain. This dictated the need for fences that created physical barriers between the park, the canal and park users. Now, the 2.7 km long straight concrete drainage channel has been restored into a sinuous, natural river 3 km long, that meanders through the park. Sixty-two hectares of park space has been redesigned to accommodate the dynamic process of a river system which includes fluctuating water levels, while providing maximum benefit for park users.

Enhancement of the Natural and Built Landscape
At Kallang River, the unique plan to break the concrete channel and create a naturalised waterway was conceived for the first time in Singapore. Designed based on a floodplain concept, people can enjoy recreational activities along the river banks during dry weather, and during heavy rain, the adjacent park land doubles up as temporary flood zones, increasing carrying capacity by 40%. This helps alleviate flood potentials downstream while allowing for multifunctional land use; creating more spaces for the community as well as ecologically valuable and diverse habitats. To date, the park has seen the park’s biodiversity count increasing by 30% with 66 species of wildflower, 59 species of birds and 22 species of dragonfly identified – with some species identified as rare in a city environment.
Other design elements includes: a playground that uses polluted river water that is cleansed in natural plant beds to permissible playground standards, riverside restaurants, extensive use of endemic plant species that mimics the adjoining nature reserve, river bedding from concrete recycled from the demolished old canal, and plenty of open green spaces to complement the natural wonder of an ecologically restored river.

Natural Soil Bio-engineering Techniques

Soil bioengineering techniques were applied at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park for river embankment stabilisation. This refers to the combination of civil engineering design principles with plants and natural materials such as rocks, which controls erosion and slow down the flow of water. Unlike other technologies in which plants plays an aesthetic role, plants have an important structural component in soil-bioengineering – their roots help to stabilise the river banks. As plants and natural materials are used, soil bioengineering structures are also characterised by the ability to evolve and adapt to their environment, and constantly self-repair and grow. They are therefore significantly more cost-efficient to install, and much more sustainable and economically viable to maintain versus hard, concrete structures over the long term.

Extensive testing was carried out in a test plot, including measuring the depth and tenacity of root development. As soil bioengineering is largely untested in the tropics and South East Asia, the test reach was used to refine the selection of appropriate techniques and plants, as well as the most efficient and effective construction methods. Not only has soil bioengineering helped with bank stabilisation, the knowledge from this pilot project can be used as a reference for future projects in the tropics.

Community Involvement
Community engagement is a fairly new element to public realm design in Singapore. During pre-construction, a children’s educational workshop was organised where children were brought close to the water and shown the new established fauna and flora from a test bed. The children made clay imprints which are now integrated into one of the playgrounds. This fosters a sense of ownership relationship between the children and the park.
Given that the park is essentially a community park as it lies between two mature housing estates, it has received much interest and many partnerships with local communities in the area. These range from primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges, senior citizen groups and communities centres. The different groups bring various dynamics and life to the park. For example, students volunteer regularly to keep the park and river clean, and one school, Raffles Institution, has even taken steps to integrate facts about the park’s water and ecology into a community learning trail. Following the completion of the project, enthusiasm about the park has seen the formation of informal groups such as the “Friends of Kallang River @ Bishan Park” whose activities encompass patrolling the park, having quarterly clean ups and educating the public about the park.


Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is an inspiring example of how a holistic approach to a functional problem can result in a city park that functions as a ecological infrastructure, sustainable stormwater management tool, flood alleviation, biodiversity enhancement, outdoor laboratory and communal bonding that helps protect limited water resources.

Lead Architect »

Atelier Dreiseitl

Professional Credits »

Client / Developer
Public Utilities Board
Singapore, Republic of

Environmental Engineer
Atelier Dreiseitl
Singapore, Republic of

Landscape Architect
Atelier Dreiseitl
Singapore, Republic of

Structural Engineer
Singapore, Republic of