1933 Slaughterhouse

Originally stunning animals and now just stunning architecture...

This project is a bit of an unusual one and one with a long history. This labyrinth was once an abattoir responsible for serving up the best meat to Shanghai's expat communities. Almost 90 years later it has been repurposed into a unique tourist attraction complete with restaurants, shops and some incredible architecture.

1933 Slaughterhouse / Old Millfun - Shanghai, Hongkou District

About The Place

1933 Slaughterhouse, also known as 1933 Old Millfun, is a major tourist destination these days on the edge of Shanghai city centre in Hongkou District.  Construction of the municipal slaughterhouse finished in 1933 and the building covers 32,500 square metres. Following the Chinese Revolution the building had a variety of different uses before it became derelict in the 1990s. A long restoration process finally returned some prestige to this truly unique building which somehow manages to combine Art Deco and Modernism. The exterior is profoundly Art Deco while the interior is both Minimalist and Modernist.

Constructed from poured concrete with a distinctive Escher-esque quality, designed by architects from the UK (principally, Balfours, the British Master Architect) and built from British concrete by Chinese developers (Yu hong Ji Construction company). This peculiar building is today one of the last few examples of Gotham-Deco with its blend of concrete, glass and steel. Inner walls are more than 50 centimetres thick and mostly hollow to better aid temperature control. The rough floors on each level were designed to prevent cattle from slipping while the lattice windows on the exterior also aid air circulation.

1933 Slaughterhouse / Old Millfun - Shanghai, Hongkou District


Elsewhere in the building's interior can be found staircases, bridges and long corridors which were either for the flow of workers or the flow of cattle. The large central atrium allowed for massive amounts of natural light to enter the construction. If you look closely you may also see small spaces between the sharp angles on each floor which allowed workers to shelter if cattle were to panic and run amok.

Besides all the mundane features are architectural wonders. Art Deco motives can be spotted in the windows while columns flow towards the ceiling. Additionally, windows were mostly added on the west face to ensure the smell of slaughter would flow in the usual wind direction of the city. It was also considered that facing the 'western paradise' would enable a better reincarnation for the deceased animals.

The narrow bridges ensured that animals would walk in single file and gravity allowed for blood and carcasses to flow downwards while the deceased animals were hung above the ground thus making sure that bad smells didn't linger and preventing contamination. The whole building was a masterpiece in efficiency heavily influenced by the assembly lines found at Ford car factories (some referred to it as a 'disassembly line')

1933 Slaughterhouse / Old Millfun - Shanghai, Hongkou District
1933 Slaughterhouse / Old Millfun - Now repurposed with stores and restaurants

The Modern Era

Starting in 2008, Axon Concepts began converting the building into the creative zone we see today. Many of the former pens are photography studios and restaurants while small shops dominate the lower floor. Theatrical and artistic events take place throughout the building especially in the penthouse - as well as deep underground in the spooky basement area. Tourists explore the corridors daily.

Gradually more and more coffee shops and boutiques are opening though the original architecture is protected by conservation laws. Glass elevators and wooden walkways have been introduced to add modern touches while some glass barriers on higher levels provide safety which wasn't afforded to the workers 90 years ago.

Old Millfun statistics

Throughout the building can be found 26 bridges of varying widths and lengths which connect from the outer parts to the center core.

Uses of the building through the ages include a medicine factory, a meeting spot for joyriders and a cold storage unit. Today it is the fancy bars, shops and restaurants which bring visitors.

As in many cultures, being near a slaughterhouse isn't considered good luck in Chinese custom. Indeed, many locals and organizations worry to this day about the possible bad spirits which may flow from the old abattoir.

Construction of the project cost 3.3 million taels (a measurement of silver), covered 31,700 square metres and consisted of tons of British concrete. 300 Gothic columns and 4 large verandas are central to the building.

1933 Slaughterhouse / Old Millfun - Now repurposed with stores and restaurants