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

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.