Janice Tseng Lau imagines travelling abattoir
to expose the reality of meat production

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A travelling abattoir highlights the reality of meat production and examines how it can be made more humane in this project by Royal College of Art graduate Janice Tseng Lau.

The Public Abattoir, An Atrocity Exhibition, forms part of Janice Tseng Lau's MA graduate project for the Royal College of Art School of Architecture. In it, a large floating abattoir travels around the world to lay bare the process of meat production.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau

"It is a campaign based on an activist vessel that travels the global meat route to raise public awareness about the mass atrocities of contemporary meat production, and to advocate for a more humane and honest relation to the meat we eat," said Lau.



Visitors are guided through a series of passages and viewing platforms in the proposed abattoir to witness the process of meat production, from the herding of the cattle to the killing, skinning, and splitting up of the animals.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau

"While already constituting a shocking spectacle for most of the visitors, the glass-walled abattoir in fact demonstrates best practices in meat production," explained Lau.

"My project is not against meat production, but it is for responsible and humane meat eating," she told Dezeen.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau

The proposed abattoir would also stage an exhibition on food scandals to highlight the complicated nature of the global meat industry, and it would include a market and restaurant where visitors could buy freshly slaughtered meat.

"The on-board fresh meat market and restaurant act like a gift shop in a museum, and also create a shortcut by cancelling the distance between the sites of production and consumption of meat," said Lau.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau

Lau looked at gallery design when conceiving the project – particularly the work of exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum.

"It was part of my design intention to apply approaches of exhibition design into curating how the visitors experience the slaughter space," said Lau. "I read a lot about Ralph Appelbaum's design philosophy and his reference to curating linear journeys through space."

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau
Slaughtering process – click for larger image

Lau wanted the project to question the role of architecture beyond form and function, as a tool for change.

"In my project, the public abattoir is not a conclusion, but rather a narrative to address and open up a hugely topical and controversial issue," she said. "I hope it has the ability to create debate and raise awareness of subjects that are formerly vague or hidden from the public."

Here's a full statement from Lau:


The Public Abattoir – An Atrocity Exhibition

The project follows two lines of interest. One that challenges the hypocrisy in the meat industry today, in which the pursuit of profit entails a saturation of the food market with more and more competitive meat products, at the expense of public health regulations and of the dignity of slaughtered animals. The other looks at our own detachment from such reality, and questions its causes.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau
Upper floor plan – click for larger image

The Public Abattoir is a roaming public space and also serves as a piece of public infrastructure. Inspired by projects such as Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior or Atelier van Lieshout’s abortion clinic Women on Wave, it is a campaign based on an activist vessel that travels the global meat route to raise public awareness about the mass atrocities of contemporary meat production, and to advocate for a more humane and honest relation to the meat we eat.

As the meat industry is a globalised one today, the strategy of the project is to site the roaming vessel in several key local nodes of a global network of meat production and consumption. As it docks the sunken public square on board is tapped into the city and becomes an extension of it. It then performs its public act. Its monumentality allows its integration into the historical centre of the city and gives it volumetric significance as a public space to be taken seriously. The external open public realm is transformed into a politically charged space of debate whilst inside, the public act of slaughter is performed and the atrocity exhibition of food scandals viewed. The on-board fresh meat market and restaurant act like a gift shop in a museum, and also create a shortcut by cancelling the distance between the sites of production and consumption of meat.

The Public Abattoir - an Atrocity Exhibition by Tseng Lau
Lower floor plan – click for larger image

While already constituting a shocking spectacle for most of the visitors, the glass-walled abattoir in fact demonstrates best practices in meat production. It travels globally to countries with unregulated slaughtering processes, and becomes an activist vessel that questions local policy and starts debates on best practices in food production.

  • Chris

    Unfortunately, most of the human population doesn’t want to see the connection between their steaks and the living, breathing being that died for that meal. Nor would they want to see that most of their steaks regain consciousness from the bolt gun and are cut up and butchered while fully awake. Glass walls aren’t popular for a reason. We want to live in denial.

    • Iryna

      “Butchered while fully awake”. Proof, or it didn’t happen.

  • FS

    I saw this at the RCA. A standout at the show and a really good project. Glad it got the coverage it deserved.

  • Romain_M

    I find the narrative quite disingenuous when the student pretends to promote honesty all the while presenting a “politically charged” design.

    There’s also something to be said about turning a slaughterhouse into a spectacle, as if a floating house-of-horrors (with a gift shop, of all things!) were the best way to inform the public.

    The idea of a mobile abattoir, however, isn’t bad. It could prove useful in largely pastoral sections of the world suffering from a dearth of adequate infrastructure (Antandroy regions of Madagascar for instance).

    PS. Those visuals are gorgeous, points for presentation.

    • Boo

      I assumed she was being ironic by turning the slaughterhouse into a spectacle? Added shock value at times helps bring attention to certain issues that people would not have paid attention to otherwise.

      • Romain_M

        I agree with your final point, but I still feel that there is a disconnect between the educational intentions of the student and the result, which remains ostentatious and, ultimately, superficial.

        Had it been a proposal for a set design, or for the storefront of a supermarket, I would have stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of her supporters. I love the dialogue between the baroque aesthetics of the flesh and the modernist interiors.

        If you don’t want people to take meat for granted, organise school-trips to abattoirs ;)

  • zah
  • Kalum666

    An idea interesting to compare with the troubles some butchers seem to have with their window display.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-26346472

    It seems fair game (sorry couldn’t resist) that all, including children know about where what we actually eat actually comes from.

    By the way, I am not myself a vegetarian. However, vegetarian or not we should not put our head in the sand.

    Actually, such a debate should not be limited to food. We would gain to be more aware of the process behing whatever we consume or throw away. An approach quite the opposite of a Mac Store.

    All these processes should have a place in our daily lives.

  • sheogorath

    Trying too hard. Plus, who knows how many health laws she will have to comply with in all the different destinations.

  • anon

    Ms. Lau has surely done it better, but self-administered slaughterhouses in the Rockefeller Center, NYC:

    https://martin-byrne.squarespace.com/academic#/another-danse-macabre-1/

    Glad to see the idea is in the air.

  • Markus

    My feeling its that if you make the exhibition too realistic it will be too uncomfortable and people will not want to see it. Make it comfortable enough and it could encourage voyeurism instead of awareness.

    I think that culturally we’re too far removed from a culture of animal husbandry and too unaware of the rushed and cost sensitive industrial realities, to make objective decisions about how animals should be treated and slaughtered.

    What’s more, one day at a museum will not condition us as much as the colourful product and deals that tempt us everyday at the supermarket.

    Most of us living in “wealthy” countries have become almost exclusively consumers and have little experience, awareness and arguably care of how things are made.

    As high volume, low price consumers we are probably equally to blame for the bad conditions of factories and abattoirs. Most factories are not nice places to live and work in, especially ones in poorer countries, who arguably also export much of their meat to wealthier countries like the UK.

    We see more value in the instant gratification that a finished product offers, than how it’s made. And lower prices also benefit us because we can do and buy more things, including saving for retirement and flying off on holiday. All these benefits that didn’t exist 100 years ago.

    It would be interesting to see if such an awareness concept can also be applied to re-create an average factory in a developing country, with the tropical heat, noise and the smell of solvents and if it would have any effect on consumers?

    Although I hope such an exhibition can have a positive effect, I wonder if we are not too tied into a culture of monetary wealth creation and individualism to care enough? Time will tell.

  • Trent

    They should do the same to expose the reality of abortions.

  • Bystandard

    What this is going to do, as all edgy art does, is bring awareness via glorification. Thus, encouraging the problem and making it worse. Love meat by the way.

  • orangeeli

    Omnivores aren’t as stupid as vegetarians would like to believe. We know that meat was once part of a living being, we know that it was slaughtered, we know this process is bloody, and we know vegetarians think it is gross and inhumane. Still, I see this proposal and think: “Mmmm, bacon.”

    • Deng

      Amen brother. Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

    • Frenzy

      Very well said orangeeli. Next they’ll be “exposing” the cruelty of a natural hunt.

      • Kemantro

        Hmm, bacon! What else matters?

  • JDMiccago

    Nonsense. Lau obviously has no concept of the regulations and costs of building and operating a meat processing facility. This is a joke of absurdities.

  • http://be.net/bassel Bassel

    If you care about the animals make a freaking documentary. If this thing gets built, people would attend just for the thrill of it, enough desensitisation.

  • Gabi

    Tasty, tasty murder.