Death by M.C. Escher – inside the old Shanghai slaughterhouse

I once had a roommate who wore a lot of M.C. Escher t-shirts.  I thought it was fun and quirky, which was odd, since he wasn’t really either of those things.  One day I made the offhand comment that he sure seemed to like M.C. Escher, and he lost it, “no, I do not like M.C. Escher! I am sick to hell of M.C. Escher!”

It turns out that he used to like M.C. Esher, when he was about eight. So people started buying him M.C. Escher t-shirts, and posters, and coffee mugs, thereby furthering the perception that he really liked M.C. Escher, and thus increasing his seemingly endless supply of M.C. Escher swag.

Poor guy.

Anyways, this morning I went to the site of the old Shanghai Municipal Slaughterhouse, which was built in 1935, and has since been redesigned into an art space. It has a Starbucks (duh), a few galleries, and even a vape shop, who’s window I did not break, although I was tempted.

The building was amazing. Even my old roommate would have been awestruck.

First a word on slaughterhouses. They are usually multistory structures. You do the actual killing at the top, and let gravity do the work of moving the one ton carcasses through the various stages of disassembly. You get the cattle to the top by putting them on a conveyor belt, or by walking them up an incline.

You can still see the building’s original function in the maze of ramps and staircases, all of which lead up to a central room on the third story. This was most likely the killing floor. (At this point, I would like to send you to the Howlin’ Wolf video, but I’m in China, so no YouTube for me). The ramps are gently graded, which means they wrap around for some time to get to the third story. The building is made of poured concrete, which gives it a fluid effect, and combines the walkways, ramps and stairs with various support structures and balconies, all twisting around a central point, and punctuated with open air and light wells.

It’s hard to reconcile this dizzying cathedral with the cow hell that it once was, but it’s no less beautiful as a functional space. The one question I have is how the live animals actually got here, since we are some ways away from the train depot. It’s possible that they were loaded onto barges or trucks, though that seems like an unnecessary extra step. In any case, location next to the small river was a pretty sensible one for a slaughterhouse.

Directions: The building is located at the corner of Haining and Jiulong roads. The easiest way is to take Metro Line 4 or 10 to Hailun (海伦) Station, and walk southeast until you reach the spot marked by the red arrow.



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