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The Arcology

29 November 201810:20PMsg-2018travel

One day, facilities like this could be the only place these species exist.

Singapore is hot.

Really hot.

Which is why I was a little concerned to find myself standing outside what appeared to be the largest greenhouse I'd ever seen. I braced myself as I stepped through the door, and couldn't help but let out a little yelp of surprise when it turned out to be cool, not hot, inside.

The name should really have been a clue. It was called the Cloud Forest, after all.

The Cloud Forest is part of the Gardens by the Bay, a botanical garden and conservatory right in the middle of Singapore. It's as confusing and contradictory as it is beautiful. It looks like a greenhouse, but it's cool inside. It's a shrine to conservation at the foot of a monument to consumer capitalism. It burns wood to keep trees cool.

Grace takes shelter under a tree. Inside.

I'm kind of in awe.

You walk in and come face to face with a waterfall running the height of an artificial mountain threaded with walkways. You start at the top, and work your way down, passing through different layers of the ecosystem as you do. They have plants in here that I've only ever seen in pictures. They've got orchids and pitcher plants and every surface is covered in climbers and vines. You're led through a simulated cave and an indoor treetop - and then it drops you right into a grim but effective exploration of human impacts on the planet.

A root, or branch, winds through a steel enclave

It's surprisingly effective, even if thinking about all the layers of what's going on here tie you up in knots.

It reminds me, most of all, of an arcology. It's biology meeting engineering on an enormous scale. The energy requirements alone must be enormous. What they're doing to keep this place cool basically amounts to a heat pump. They're pulling a huge amount of heat out of here, and that costs a huge amount of energy - and then they've got to find somewhere to sink all that heat afterwards. Those towering artificial trees dotted around outside aren't just climbing frames for greenery. They're solar panels, and exhaust towers, and heat exchangers, working overtime to keep the inside of the dome habitable for the species that live there.

A moss-lined air conditioning vent

We can keep these mountain plants alive in the middle of a tropical city, and it is magnificent. But we can only do it at a spectacular cost. It's tempting to declare that everything will be fine, because we can build places like this, but it's really not fine at all. It's bailing out a sinking ship. It's running at full tilt just to try and stay still. This is an exercise in preservation, not conservation, and that's really scary.

Because one day, facilities like this could be the only places these species exist.

Looking glasses and lights and tiny, tiny flowers.

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