The modern marvel that is Jewel Changi Airport mall has been in the global spotlight since it opened for business. Having welcomed over about 65 million visitors to date, it has already become an icon of design and technology. However, allegations have apparently been made by Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker that Singapore’s Jewel is merely a copycat of Doha airport’s expansion plans, slated to come to life in 2022.
Official opening of Jewel Changi Airport
October 18 was the official opening of Jewel Changi Airport, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the opening ceremony, noting that “Jewel has been almost 10 years in the making”.
“Jewel has become one of the instantly recognisable icons of Singapore. Every facet of it is brilliant,” said PM Lee. “Foreign leaders I have spoken to have gushed over it, and the New York Times recently featured Jewel in an article describing how visiting Singapore was ‘a trip to the future’. This is remarkable, because usually tourists want to leave the airport as soon as they can, but in Singapore, Changi Airport is a tourist attraction in itself, and Jewel has enhanced that reputation and appeal.”
PM Lee also noted that Jewel and Changi Airport were not only “an infrastructure story” but a representation of an idea—a symbol of “how Singapore … must dream boldly to create possibilities for ourselves”.
Expansion plans for Hamad International Airport
Four days after Jewel’s opening, Al Baker, who also serves as CEO of Hamad International Airport (HIA), introduced big expansion plans for the Doha airport.
A statement released on October 22 stated that the expanded Hamad International Airport will showcase a “10,000 sqm indoor tropical garden in a central concourse” and a 268 sqm water feature.
The statement specified that the indoor tropical garden will be housed under a “column-free, long-span 85m grid shell roof with performance glass”.
Who copied whom?
The description and photos are undeniably familiar—it’s almost like Jewel Changi. But according to travel news and reviews website Executive Traveller, Al Baker said the design for HIA was already in development six years ago and was stolen by people from another unnamed country on the team.
“Somebody copied our design, which was already on the table six years ago,” Al Baker was quoted as saying. “We had individuals from that country, I will not name it, who took that and did it [themselves],” he allegedly said.
He added that “the jewel of Hamad International” was different from the copy cat because “one is a shopping mall, and one is an international airport”.
Aviation website AirlineGeeks.com also shared the same comments by Al Baker. AirlineGeeks said that Al Baker explained that travellers arriving at HIA would not have to go through immigration to visit its indoor forest and waterfall.
“Without having to go to anybody’s Jewel, you can sustain yourself in the jewel of my country. So you don’t have to carry your suitcases, put trolleys, go to immigration and customs, to enjoy anybody’s jewel,” Al Baker was quoted as saying.
Changi Airport Group’s response
Changi Airport Group (CAG) responded to the allegations through an article published by The Straits Times (ST) on Monday (Nov 4).
CAG chief executive Lee Seow Hiang was quoted as saying that “the competitive process for a new integrated lifestyle complex was put in place as early as July 2012”.
In May 2013, Singapore developer CapitaLand was awarded the contract for the project, with a design by world-famous Safdie Architects, headed by award-winning Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie
“We value the originality and creativity of ideas as we innovate to elevate the Changi experience for all our visitors. We respect intellectual property rights and expect the same of all our partners,” Lee said to ST, also confirming that Safdie Architects told CAG that they have never worked in Qatar.
In fact, Lee said that Safdie Architects have been “pursuing the concept of gardens as a focal point for the public realm for many decades”. The firm has used natural rain water for internal waterfalls for other projects, like Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands.
“We are delighted that Jewel’s uniqueness and originality has been well-recognised by the international community and resulted in many wanting to emulate it,” he reportedly said. /TISG