Cultural Capital?

Rarely have the cultural aspirations of a city been as neatly represented by one edifice as Singapore's are with Esplanade, the new arts coliseum the city-state hopes will become the local version of New York's Lincoln Center, London's Barbican or, considering its harbor-side perch, the Sydney Opera House. Never mind the debate over what these animalized structures most resemble—hedgehog or scarab? Porcupine or mollusk?—the real issue is whether Singapore can remake itself as the "Renaissance City" the government hopes will flower on the banks of the Malacca Straits.

The ambitious plan, including the buildings that have...

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