The 16th International Docomomo Conference - Inheritable Resilience - 12. OTHERS1406
1. buildings of control and reform
No period witnessed more new building types than the
18th and 19th century, when the enlightenment movement
was in its prime and the Industrial Revolution energised
changes in all aspects of everyday life. is period called for
new building types to provide new functional programmes
to serve new entrepreneurial/working classes (e.g. mills,
warehouses, rail stations, cafes, museums or marketplaces);
and transform existing institutions or create new ones (e.g.
schools, orphanages, hospitals, asylums, poorhouses, work-
houses, bridewells or prisons) to implement new laws ad-
dressing pressing socio-environmental problems of indus-
We employ the term “buildings of control and reform” to
refer to institutional buildings whose spatial layouts were
designed to exercise control over a particular group of sub-
jects, e.g. the ill, mad, sad, bad or poor. Commonalities among
these late/post-enlightenment institutions are noticeable.
e social relationship of inmates with their custodians and
society itself were encoded in the internal spatial layout of
institutions as well as their location choice.² Similar to labo-
ratories, these institutions were where civil law, clinical ex-
periments and philanthropic care could be lawfully applied
and performed on the subjects deemed abnormal. e spa-
tial layout ensured inmates were under constant surveil-
lance and control so that their impurities, which unfavoura-
bly represented disorder in society itself, could be treated or
eradicated. Located on the outskirts or outmost periphery
of the city, these institutions kept the impurities a safe dis-
tance away from society, symbolising contamination and
yet remaining visible to all as a deterrent. While most exist-
ing studies have focused on prisons, asylums and hospitals
that were created to incarcerate and rehabilitate human
subjects³, this paper examines modern slaughterhouses as a
late-enlightenment institution to exercise control and re-
form over animals.
2. the rise of the modern slaughterhouse
2.1. Mechanisation of Animal Slaughter
e use of machines in the slaughter process was more
than a denunciation of the traditional handcraed process
of slaughter to enhance eciency, but a reduction of direct
human agency and an intent to develop humane alterna-
tives.⁴ In Mechanization Takes Command, Siegfried Giedion
dedicated a chapter to animal killing under the somewhat
disturbing title, “Mechanization and Death: Meat”.⁵ He at-
tributed the ﬁrst use of machinery for animal slaughter to
the hog-slaughter industry in the 1850s Cincinnati — the
then-largest centre of the meat processing/packing indus-
tries in America. Chicago overtook Cincinnati in the 1860s
with the establishment of the Union Stock Yards. is much
larger industrial site was reputed for its unparalleled speed
in processing a large quantity of livestock, fostering the cre-
ation of the ﬁrst production line in the slaughter industry.
To cope with the escalating demand, various machines and
instruments were invented to work toward an automated
process of mass slaughter. Numerous patents on appliances
for catching, killing, suspending, cleaning and scraping ani-
mals were ﬁled in the late 19th century for the production
line of the American slaughter industry.⁶ ereaer, this
ﬂow of “production” — from stunning, bleeding, skinning
and eviscerating animals; to spliing and cleaving carcasses
into merchantable chunks — was widely adopted. is pro-
duction line, however, was operated only partially by ma-
chines and largely manually by workers.
Although the Union Stock Yards was built spontaneous-
ly without a well-laid plan to eect slaughter, the facto-
ry-like system developed there provided Henry Ford an im-
Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University; No. 111 Ren’ai Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province 215123, China;
MODERN SLAUGHTERHOUSES: BUILDINGS OF CONTROL AND REFORM
This paper traces the ideas, built and unbuilt projects of public slaughterhouses that had eectively reformed traditional private
shambles and led to the creation of a new building type. The emergence of the modern slaughterhouse was entangled with the enlight-
enment rationality to exercise control and reform, which is manifested in the spatial congurations of the then newly developed institu-
tional building types, such as prisons, asylums and slaughterhouses. This paper delineates the two contextual factors that contributed
to the rise of modern slaughterhouses: the invention of the production line and slaughter machinery and the subsequent development
of modernist proposals for public abattoirs. It then examines the spatial conguration of slaughterhouses and the development of ideas
from a two-dimensional production line to a three-dimensional conguration that used gravity to engineer mass animal slaughter. Vari-
ous ideas for a modern prototype for ecient, hygienic and humane animal slaughter were successively developed along with the early
20th century nascent modernist movement and facilitated by cross-national exchange. The paper concludes with a call for a responsive
attitude toward the reuse of slaughterhouse, which serves new social functions for contemporary users to reflect upon the uncomfortable
social and physical spaces that exist within societies.
MODERN SLAUGHTERHOUSES: BUILDINGS OF CONTROL AND REFORM - Yi-Wen Wang 1407
portant precedent for his Model-T assembly line in 1908.⁷
Giedion noted that “[t]he automobile industry was able to
work out its own assembly line with such astonishing speed
because of the extensive practice gained here in working on
the moving object”.⁸ ese two production lines, nonethe-
less, were operated in a reverse direction. While the line in
the automobile factory put together separate components
to assemble a car, the line in the slaughterhouse dissembled
a complex living creature into separate saleable parts. is
process of dissembling deﬁnes the very nature and spatial
logics of the modern slaughterhouse.
e speed and productivity achieved by the mechanisa-
tion of animal slaughter distinguish modern slaughterhous-
es from traditional shambles. e modern prototype was
developed for the express purpose to execute the death of
animals swily and en masse. is was made possible by a
carefully choreographed sequence of operations with clear-
ly separated steps and tasks. Ultimately, when slaughtering
animals became a highly machinated process dictating the
spatial order of architecture, the modern slaughterhouse
was also literally turned into a “machine for killing”.⁹
2.2. Modernist Ideas of Modern Slaughterhouse
In Europe, the development of the modern abaoir also
began in the mid-19th century, aligning with the enlighten-
ment philosophy characterised by rational thought and sci-
entiﬁc enquiry. e development was spearheaded by sever-
al modernist ﬁgures, including George Eugène Haussmann,
Garnier, and Le Corbusier among others. e European
search for a modern prototype appears to emphasise hu-
mane and hygienic approaches to killing and the eective
organisation of space for processing animals, in contrast to
the American preoccupation with mass production and
When the Union Stock Yards in Chicago was founded in
1864 with no plan but open yards, La Villee (1863–67), the
largest public abaoir in France, was under construction as
part of Haussmann’s plan to modernise Paris. Giedion
praised the monumentality of La Villee, which “became
the abaoir, a prototype for the rest of the century, just as
the boulevards and public parks of Haussmann’s Paris be-
came models from which every growing metropolis of the
Continent took paern”.¹⁰ Despite the ambitious scale of the
project, Haussmann’s abaoir remained a pre-modern mod-
el that possessed animals by slaughtermen instead of mech-
By the late 19th century, Britain set out on its quest for a
modern prototype to address animal welfare, following the
writings of late-enlightenment thinkers such as Jeremy
Bentham. e Model Abaoir Society, headed by humanitar-
ian physician Benjamin W. Richardson, prescribed “a true
model abaoir”, consisting of six compartments in sequence:
“yards, lairs, slaughter halls, dressing rooms, suspension
rooms and refrigeration chambers”¹¹ (Fig. 1). Aerwards, fel-
low of the Royal Institute of British Architects, R. Stephen
Ayling, popularised Richardson’s ideas in his book on public
Fig. 1. The Model Abattoir. Source: Ayling, 1908 (public domain image).
The 16th International Docomomo Conference - Inheritable Resilience - 12. OTHERS1408
Fig. 2. Typological analysis
of (un)built modern slaugh-
terhouses. © Yi-Wen Wang.
MODERN SLAUGHTERHOUSES: BUILDINGS OF CONTROL AND REFORM - Yi-Wen Wang 1409
abaoirs. Aiming to demonstrate that “public abaoirs are
an absolute necessity rather than a luxury”, Ayling advocat-
ed the need to have an “abaoir system” that was progres-
sively modern from site selection to architectural design.¹²
Both Richardson’s proposal for the “Model Abaoir” and Ay-
ling’s extensive research on public abaoirs emphasised the
need to reform the industry, calling for government inter-
vention in closing private establishments and erecting pub-
lic premises for the cause of humanity and hygiene.
About at the same time in France, Tony Garnier and Le
Corbusier, two key ﬁgures of nascent modernism, proposed
some design schemes that, similar to Richardson, integrated
the machinated process of slaughter into the spatial layout.
Garnier included a public abaoir in the second version of
his renowned hypothetical plan for the industrial city. His
conceptual thinking of La Cité Industrielle (1901–1904) in-
formed his real project in Lyon that had a public abaoir as
part of the city’s modern amenities. ough interrupted by
the war, the abaoir La Mouche was the ﬁrst completed pro-
ject (1908–1928) in Lyon, realising Garnier’s concept of La Cité
Industrielle. e tallest building in the abaoir — the live-
stock holding pen, resembling a triangular prism with
stepped Art Deco façades — dominated the city skyline and
became the “industrial cathedral” of the working class city
3. movement, gravity and verticality
3.1. A Modern Prototype
e quest for a modern prototype is arguably best exem-
pliﬁed by the writings of Richardson and Ayling. While the
physician’s design for the Model Abaoir reﬂects his values
for ethical animal slaughter, the architect’s research and
case studies conﬁrm that Richardson’s design critically ad-
dressed the problems and needs of real-world practice.
e Model Abaoir’s ﬂoor plan lends useful insight into
Richardson’s ideas as to how animal slaughter should be
conducted in a humane/hygienic manner. e Model fea-
tured three circular buildings situated in the central area of
the site, each of which was used for processing a particular
type/size of animal. Each had animal walkways on the pe-
riphery; the outer ring of rooms was used for lairs; inwards
and adjacent was a circular tram line for a lethal chamber
going around to kill animals in the lairs; further in was a
round slaughter hall equipped with eight slaughter bays ar-
ranged in a radial paern; at the very centre was an inspec-
tor’s room that oversees all the activities in the slaughter
hall. Hanging and cooling rooms were detached from the
circular buildings but well connected to the slaughter hall,
with overhead tracks to convey carcases and limit human
handling. e rationale behind this design was to prevent
living animals to see/hear the slaughtering of their same
kinds; and to ensure a complete separation between animals
Mechanisation was prevalent in these early 20th centu-
ry designs, but total mechanisation appeared to be unaain-
able and morally undesirable. Oer notes that:
e abaoir was above all imagined, planned and construct-
ed as a machinated space. Animal and meat were to be “han-
dled as lile as possible”; hooks, pulleys, rails, electric sau-
sage-mincers, and hog-scraping devices made slaughter and
dressing an act increasingly performed by machines rather
than humans. … e point of death, however, remained stub-
bornly resistant to full mechanisation, requiring the ﬁrm but
delicate trained hand of a sober slaughterman.
Based on Richardson’s original speciﬁcations, Ayling formu-
lated a set of design principles for the modern abaoir. His
considerations ranged from site selection, material use, nat-
ural lighting, ventilation, to techniques of blocking the ani-
mals’ sight of the killing ﬂoor. Derived from Richardson’s six
separate rooms of the Model Abaoir, Alying added admin-
istrative blocks, carcass destruction facilities and workmen’s
rooms to the list. However, the various case studies cited in
Ayling’s work and the laer-day projects can, in fact, be sim-
pliﬁed into three dierent functions: livestock holding, ani-
mal killing and carcass cooling (Fig. 2).
3.2 Production Line and Movement
Similar to automated machines, the modern slaughter-
house must be comparted and arranged in sequential steps
to control the movement of animals and workers. Already
observable in unplanned slaughterhouses in America, the
movements of livestock, carcasses, butchery workers or
transport vehicles collectively staged a theatrical perfor-
mance in the slaughterhouse. e continuous movement
was necessitated by the production line as well as the mech-
anised process, each of which entailed a clear separation of
tasks undertaken independently in a speciﬁc order. Move-
ment in the slaughterhouse was deliberately stretched fur-
ther apart to separate animals and carcasses for humanitar-
ian and hygienic purposes.¹⁵ ese separate operational
tasks, however, must also be prudently connected horizon-
tally by passages or bridges and vertically using ramps or
staircases. ese connective elements channelled the ﬂow
of animals, goods and workers in a controlled direction.
Such strict control of movement in the abaoir is simi-
lar to the mechanical system within a machine. Oer con-
sidered this pronounced directional logic “as a ﬂowchart”,
connecting “a series of functionally distinct and sequential
stages”.¹⁶ Lee pointed out the high-level control of circula-
tion in the unbuilt abaoir of La Cité Industrielle and noted
that “Garnier’s plan perfected a mode of architectural order
critically centred on movement” through “its absolute con-
trol of passive bodies being moved through space, dissem-
bled inside a linear trajectory, and expelled as goods”.¹⁷
When Garnier conceived a functional design with a one-
way funnelling system for his industrial abaoir, young Le
Corbusier, then known as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (CEJ),
The 16th International Docomomo Conference - Inheritable Resilience - 12. OTHERS1410
designed one for a competition in Challuy held by the US
military in 1917. In a leer to his parents, he wrote that his
design solution was “the opposite of European methods, and
… surprisingly simple and logical”.¹⁸ CEJ’s design features
three distinct buildings — cale stalls, slaughterhouse, and
refrigeration; each of which was given a distinctive fenestra-
tion reﬂecting the function therein. Being detached from
each other yet interconnected by bridges and conveyor
belts, the three buildings represent the trinity of the mod-
ern abaoir. A year aer, CEJ designed another unbuilt abat-
toir for a site in Garchizy with a similar concept, but inte-
grated the three components into one building (Fig. 2).
Again, fenestration of the building faithfully reﬂected its
three functional uses and, moreover, the separate vertical
circulation for animals and workers. Le Corbusier’s two un-
built projects encapsulate the design principles for modern
abaoirs that had been developed since the mid-19th centu-
ry and were later adopted widely across the world until the
3.3. Multi-storey Development
e evolution of modern abaoir designs toward mul-
ti-storey structures further intensiﬁed the movement with-
in the slaughterhouse. While modernist architects at that
time were only keen to showcase the vertical circulation in
their designs, slaughterhouses built in the following dec-
ades oen exhibited deliberations to stretch the movement
upwards and create three-dimensional dynamics.
e multi-storey development of abaoir design was
not merely for the visual appeal of verticality but also prac-
tically factored the animal’s mobility and the gravity in the
spatial design of the abaoir. Giedion’s account on the
slaughter industry in America reveals that workers in Cin-
cinnati and Chicago already knew how “to utilize the ani-
mal’s own weight to transport it downwards from ﬂoor to
ﬂoor by the force of gravity”.¹⁹ Both were, however, formed
incrementally with no plan, and the production line was not
craed into the spatial layout. Le Corbusier’s unbuilt design
for Garchizy certainly serves as a good example of a mul-
ti-storey prototype of the modern abaoir; however, the
scarcity of existing studies on slaughterhouses has posed
challenges to track the origin and development of ideas that
had been imported/exported across the world in the past
Fig. 3. The exposed view of Shanghai Municipal Abattoir showing the circu-
lation of animals. © Yi-Wen Wang.
Fig. 4. The restored concrete structure of 1933 Shanghai. © Shanghai Crea-
tive Industry Centre.
MODERN SLAUGHTERHOUSES: BUILDINGS OF CONTROL AND REFORM - Yi-Wen Wang 1411
e Shanghai Municipal Abaoir (1933) designed by Brit-
ish architect Arthur Carr Wheeler is a telling example of the
culmination of thought and practice of this particular build-
ing type (Fig. 3). e design bears a marked resemblance
with the Model Abaoir both geometrically and functional-
ly, as if Richardson’s three circular plans were stacked up
and turned into a multi-storey structure. Inﬂuenced by in-
ternational ideas and best practices, aimed at eciency, hy-
giene and humane slaughter, the design was also responsive
to local speciﬁcities. It is an extraordinary piece of function-
al expressionism and wandering through the spaces today
raises interesting questions about the nature of building
and architecture. It is a visually thrilling experience explor-
ing these aestheticised spaces designed with the express
purpose of animal killing (Fig. 4).²⁰
Buildings of control and reform were designed to a very
speciﬁc brief with detailed prescriptions of intended pur-
poses and users. e enlightenment philosophy that formed
the backbone of the original designs of institutional build-
ings is now outmoded. Purpose-built institutions such as
prisons, asylums and slaughterhouses became redundant as
their structures were unable to meet the changing stand-
ards of the penal system, health care or animal slaughter at
any given time.
Repurposing institutional buildings with somewhat
murky pasts, however, have been increasingly accepted and
even embraced by contemporary society. We argue that the
reuse of institutional buildings can serve new social func-
tions in that it not only meets the needs of consumers, de-
velopers and/or conservationists but also allows visitors to
reﬂect upon the uncomfortable social and physical spaces
that exist within societies. Similar to prisons, several repur-
posed slaughterhouses and meat premises have gained pop-
ularity. La Mouche in Lyon was converted and renamed Le
Halle Tony Garnier, becoming the leisure centre of the city.
e Shanghai Municipal Abaoir, now known as Shanghai
1933, has become the focal point of Shanghai’s creative in-
dustry. Numerous examples exist in other parts of the
world. If the reuse of slaughterhouses has an implicit func-
tion, its role in addressing contemporary society’s detach-
ment from animal killing for human consumption is what
we should perhaps ponder on.
AYLING, R. Stephen, Public Abattoirs: Their Planning, Design, and Equipment,
London, E&FN Spon, 1908.
BROOKS, H. Allen, Le Corbusier’s Formative Years: Charles-Edouard Jeanneret
at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999.
GIEDION, Sigfried, Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anony-
mous History, New York, Oxford University Press, 1948.
LEE, Paula Young (ed.), Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse,
Lebanon, University of New Hampshire Press, 2008.
MARKUS, Thomas A., (ed.), Order in Space and Society: Architectural Form
and Its Context in the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1982.
OTTER, Christopher, “Civilizing Slaughter: The Development of the British
Public Ab attoir, 1850–1970.”, Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaugh-
terhouse, edited by LEE, Paula Young, Lebanon, University of New Hampshire
Press, 2008, 89–106.
PENDLEBURY, John, WANG, Yi-Wen, & LAW, Andrew, “Re-using ‘Uncomfortable
Heritage’: The Case of the 1933 Building, Shanghai,” International Journal of
Heritage Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2018, 211–229.
RICHARDSON, Benjamin Ward, “Public Slaughter-Houses: A Suggestion for
Farmers,” The New rReview, Vol. 8, No. 49, 1893, 631–644.
SPENS, Iona (ed.), Architecture of iIncarceration, London, Academy Editions,
WANG, Yi-Wen, & PENDLEBURY, John, “The Modern Abattoir as a Machine
for Killing: The Municipal Abattoir of the Shanghai International Settlement,
1933,” Architectural Research Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2016, 131–144.
1 Thomas A. Markus (ed.), Order in Space and Society: Architectural Form and Its
Context in the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1982.
3 Ibid.; SPENS, Iona (ed.), Architecture of Incarceration, London, Academy Editions,
4 Paula Young Lee (ed.), Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse, Leba-
non, University of New Hampshire Press, 2008.
5 Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous
History, New York, Oxford University Press, 1948.
7 Paula Young Lee, 2008.
8 Sigfried Giedion, 1948, 229.
9 Yi-Wen Wang & John Pendlebury, The Modern Abattoir as a Machine for Killing: The
Municipal Abattoir of the Shanghai International Settlement, 1933, Architectural
Research Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2016.
10 Sigfried Giedion,1948, 210.
11 Benjamin Ward Richardson, Public Slaughter-Houses: A Suggestion for Farmers,
The New Review, Vol. 8, No. 49, 1893, 635.
12 R. Stephen Ayling, Public Abattoirs: Their Planning, Design and Equipment, Lon-
don, E&FN Spon, 1908, v.
13 Paula Young Lee, 2008, 68.
14 Christopher Otter, “Civilizing Slaughter: The Development of the British Public
Abattoir, 1850–1970”, Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse, edited
by Paula Young LEE, Lebanon, University of New Hampshire Press, 2008, 96.
15 Benja min Ward Richardso n, 1893; R. S tephen A yling, 1908; Chr istopher Otter,
16 Christopher Otter, 2008, 96.
17 Paula Young Lee, 2008, 67.
18 Quoted in H. Allen Brooks, Le Corbusier’s Formative Years: Charles-Edouard Jean-
neret at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999, 486.
19 Sigfried Giedion, 1948, 216.
20 John Pendlebury, Yi-Wen Wang & Andrew Law, “Re-using ‘Uncomfortable Heritage’:
The Case of the 1933 Building, Shanghai”, International Journal of Heritage Stud -
ies, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2018.