If the Wachowskis Built a Skyscraper…

The best views of Singapore are from a building that recreates the ‘wall of data’ scene from ‘The Matrix’

A sweeping, panoramic view of Singapore from 50 stories up is not just a breathtaking sight; it’s also a kind of living history spread out before you, charting the rise of the tiny, ever-growing city-state.

To your south is the enormous, bustling port which gave Singapore its original reason to exist. It’s one of the busiest in the world, servicing around 1,000 ships a day, with one arriving or departing every few minutes. Just beyond that is a bay teeming with cargo vessels, entering, leaving or just hanging around. They make the sea look like a giant, congested car park, and it seems miraculous they don’t collide.

Shift your gaze north east and you find the roofs of Chinatown, whose streets of traditional two-story shop houses in pastel hues run like multi-colored ribbons between the tower blocks of downtown. Beyond that, to the east, is the swanky Marina Sands district and the Durian — a building whose nickname comes from its resemblance to the famously fragrant local fruit.

Further north, the landscape is dotted with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, many of them painted in different shades of the same color, like a giant Pantone chart. There are cranes everywhere, constructing still more buildings in order to accommodate a mushrooming population. The results of the land reclamation that has increased the country’s size by more than 20% in 50 years are clearly visible, too: If you gaze west to the industrial zone of Tuas, you see property that didn’t exist before the 1980s.

In the middle distance a large, incongruous-looking patch of green signals the city’s remaining tropical rainforest. It’s a reminder of what the entire place must have looked like in the not-too-distant past.

To take in this vista, you need to follow some advice you’d scoff at in London or New York: Bypass the obvious viewing spots (in this case, high-altitude bars with prices to match) and find your way to an enormous public housing project. The Pinnacle @ Duxton is the world’s tallest public housing building, and its Sky Gardens on the 50th floor are the longest in the world. They offer an unmatched 360-degree view, allowing you to see everything from Sentosa and Singapore’s other small islands in the south to Malaysia just across the causeway in the north.

Best of all, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. Two hundred tourists a day are permitted to enter (you pay $5 using a subway pass, once you’ve found the appropriate turnstile, tucked away behind a 7–11), but on the day I went there were only a few other people up there — two visitors and a few blasé residents. The Duxton website used to let people see how many tourist slots were still available on a given day, but the service seemed less than essential: The 200-person quota is seldom if ever used up.

The building itself is almost as interesting to look at as it is to look from. Comprising seven towers linked by the Sky Bridge, its design was partially based on The Matrix — specifically one of the scenes in which Keanu Reeves’ Neo sees the computer code which grants control of humanity to the sinister Agents. (Some people might find this an odd source of inspiration for an apartment building in a country that’s often called a police state.)

The Duxton is particularly eye-catching when approached from Keong Saik road, a rapidly gentrifying former red light district: Its rows of pretty shop houses contain businesses ranging from scruffy noodle bars to fancy cocktail joints. To go from there to the top of the building is to move from Singapore’s past to its present, then survey its future. That future will clearly involve many more tall towers, but it’s unlikely any will have a view to match this one.