An Art Deco abattoir-turned-cultural venue in Shanghai.
It is not often you can use the words ‘slaughterhouse’, ‘Art Deco’ and ‘modern China’ in a single phrase. This is your chance.
This abattoir, built in 1933, combines influences from Art Deco and Feng Shui and mixes them with a twist of Renaissance-era artist Piranesi. The result is a satisfyingly mysterious building whose secret passageways are just begging to be explored. And in a twist of 21st century modernisation, it now aims to relaunch itself as a cultural hotspot.
Once outside there is a fascinating opportunity to take in a few bits of Shanghai that have been overlooked by modernisation (for now!)
Just north of Shanghai’s famous Bund*, in an area known as Hongkou Creek. Map.
EIGHTY YEARS AGO, fast-growing Shanghai was desperately in need of a modern slaughterhouse. And so, at the edge of the International Settlement, a new abattoir was constructed in the hot contemporary Western architectural style known as Art Deco.
But make no mistake- this was a utilitarian work site, not a beauty project. On the inside, the building’s function is clearly visible in its large ramps, where cattle were driven in to be sacrificed to the God of Carnivorism and where small passages allowed individual beasts to be separated and workers to step aside in case of a stampede.
|Beginning of the end: the cows' last journey started here.
The result is a three-dimensional network of flyovers and passageways that is vaguely reminiscent of the nightmarish Carceri envisioned by 18th century Italian artist Piranesi,as well as the graphical illusions of M.C Escher.
|... and the real-life version of 1933.
These days, the only bloodletting is financial and the only nightmares are those of bridezillas going berserk, as the building, now simply named ‘1933’, is a designated cultural space that offers some artsy boutiques, wedding-space-for-rent and Chinese twenty-somethings strutting their creative stuff, be it by showing off fashionable clothes or putting their newly acquired DSLRs to use.
|I do, I do, I do.
|Don't smile at the camera, we're too cool for that.
Once you've satisfied your need for hip modernism, step outside and another world awaits you, far removed from both the European aesthetic that built the abattoir as well as the modernising forces that turned it into ‘1933’.
Just down the road is a longtang neighbourhood, a working-class 'hood of narrow lanes and low brick buildings that offers a glimpse of pre-1980’s collective life. Shanghai used to be full of neighbourhoods like these, but, like the hutong of Peking, they have been bulldozed down in large numbers to make way for multi-lane flyovers and Gucci shops. This one remains. For how long? Your guess is as good as mine.
The houses along these small lanes form a community (also known as Ruiqingli lilong) where neighbours sit outside shooting and catching the breeze, and dry their laundry as well as their protein the old-fashioned way. If you’re tall, be prepared to duck, lest your head hits one of the many dangling pork chops!
|Old Shanghai- with New Shanghai looming in the background.
|Ruiqingli lilong is a great place for underwear gazing.
|How's it hanging today? Your bacon bits I mean.
|You just don't dig on swine? How about some fish?
Take Shanghai’s excellent metro system to Hailun Rd (line 4&10) from where you can walk to 1933.
Follow Xinjia and Wutai Rds, and you will pass Liaoning Rd which is where the longtang is located. Simply duck into one of the little passageways and start exploring.
Alternatively, a taxi from the People’s Square area will set you back about 10 RMB.
1933 on Atlas Obscura
* If I were paid a Yuan every time I heard this pronounced as if it were a German word, it’d be financially independent by now. It’s an English word, and it rhymes with ‘fund’