Julæ Lynn-Tanning

Best la!1

Critical review of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

[1]  In Singlish, “Best” is often used as an ironic exclamation of comedic failure.
“La” is an iconic but oft misused Singlish end particle that here connotes emphasis and indicates the Singlish context of the phrase.

[2] The Singlish word “horrigible” is a portmanteau of the English words “horrible” and “incorrigible” implying that a horrible situation is beyond redemption.
The Singaporean linguist Gwee Li Sui opines that horrigible improves on the English word “horrible” semantically and aurally, he asserts that the word “bears a Gothic weight of disgust”.
(Gwee, 2018, pp. 79)

[3] Animal and plant themed similes are very common in Singlish. “Blur like sotong” translates literally to “confused like a squid”. Sotong being squid in Malay.
The comparison here is visual. Squids have no skeletal structure, swim backwards, and have large pupils that resemble those of someone who is confused.

[4] Similar to “blur like sotong”, “gabra like zebra” denotes a frazzled confusion.
This simile is less clear and likely popularised due to the rhyming of “zebra” and “gabra”.

[5] An overnight addition to the Singlish lexicon, “stunned like vegetable” is a lyric from a comical song released in 2015 where the Chinese actor Chen Tianwen serenades his lover whilst holding a bouquet and a broccoli.
While seemingly nonsensical, (how can vegetable be flabbergasted?), “vegetable” in fact refers to a comatose person.
The borderline disturbing analogy can induce hysterical laughter in Singaporeans due in part to Singaporeans’ blasé attitude to misfortune.
The phrase’s redeeming quality is its adaptability to a gamut of circumstances. (Gwee, 2018, pp.158-160)

[6] This Singlish saying derives from Hokkien and translates to “What are you saying?”.

[7] Rojak is a common dish in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia consisting of sliced fruits and vegetables served in spicy palm-sugar dressing.
The word is also used to denote a mess or mix of elements that might seem nonsensical.

[8] “Siapa nama mu?” translates from Malay literally as “who name you” and means “what is your name?”. It implies an inquiry of identity and alludes to the inaugural exhibition at the National Gallery of Singapore that inquires into the link between national identity and art.

[9] Moore, Rowan (2014), “Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park review – no medals for visual flair”, The Guardian, April 6, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/06/queen-elizabeth-olympic-park-review-disneyfied-new-york-high-line accessed May 2023


“Apah sia ini?”, an Indonesian/Malaysian exclamation that translates to “What the [expletive] is this?” was the first thing that came to mind when I stepped into what I now know as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Whatever I saw in front of me was horrigible2. I was blur like sotong3, gabra like zebra4, and ultimately, stunned like vegetable5.

The overwhelming majesty and staggering ineptitude of the visual phantasmagoria assaulting my every sensibility compels me to learn more about this hulking monstrosity and write this dissertation.

Gong simi?6

In this dissertation, I deploy language as a metaphor to analyse the structure of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, making the argument that the park as it stands today is rojak7, or a structural and semantic mess that can be compared to one of linguist Noam Chomsky’s nonsensical sentences written backward: “furiously sleep ideas green colourless”.

Siapa nama mu?8

The architecture critic Rowan Moore writes for The Guardian newspaper that the south of Olympic Park is the “visual equivalent of several mobile ringtones going off at once”.9

Who is the “park” in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park? Is Olympic Park not “the biggest new park in Europe for 150 years” as promised by the UK government? (Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, 2007)

I argue that the word “Park” in the context of Olympic Park is somewhat obfuscatory and should be seen as akin to the word “park” in “industrial park”, “tech park”  or “retail park”, not parks in the context of landscape design.

Landscape Architecture in large part is influenced by the fine arts, in particular landscape painting.   The landscape architect for Manhattan’s Central Park and widely considered to be the founder of the discipline is Fredrick Law Olmsted. In Central Park and many of his other works, the idea of the sightline is integral. Olmsted designed several points and environments within Central Park in allusion to traditions of landscape painting. The intention is that parkgoers will step out of the hustle and bustle of the city into a virtual replica of a landscape painting (Schama, 1995).

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argues in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) that language or thought expression has limits and “what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense”.

I argue that the material realities of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are nonsensical when considered in the syntactical canon of the Western landscape.

To borrow a concept from Wittgenstein’s later work, Philosophical Investigations (1953/ 2009), I argue that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park bears a greater “family resemblance” to commercial enterprises like industrial parks.


Chomsky, Noam (1957), Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton & Co.
Chomsky, Noam (1965), Cartesian Linguistics. New York: Cambridge University Press
Gwee, Li Sui (2018), Spiaking Singlish: A Companion To How Singaporeans Communicate. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions
Lefebvre, Henri (1968/2009), Le Droit À La Ville, 3e édition, Paris: Economica
Lefebvre, Henri (1974/1992), La production de l’espace/The Production of Space. Paris: Anthropos / London: Wiley
Mitchell, Don (2003), The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, New York, London: The Guilford Press
Schama, Simon (1995), Landscape and Memory, London: Harper Collins Publishers
Waldheim, Charles (2016), Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2009) Philosophical Investigations, 4th edition, Oxford: Blackwell