Drawings of a Post-industrial Slaughterhouse


The project addresses the relationship between suffering and the organization of labor in the industrialized slaughterhouse.

The suffering experienced by industrial slaughterhouse workers is due to a multitude of factors, and although the  very notion of suffering is complex and seems difficult to define in detail, there are some factors of torments that can nevertheless be analyzed.

Examples include:

  1. 1. the mechanization of bodies that occurs in the industrial environment in general may be responsible for the alienation of workers.
  2. 2. The feeling of insignificance that the worker is able to feel because of his instrumentalization can also be a factor of suffering. In  his seminal work Wage Labour and Capital, from 1849, Karl Marx explains how the laborer, in the same way as other tools, seems to be a simple instrument of work in the industrialized environment
  3. 3. The singular mission of killing, specific to the industrialized slaughterhouse, can lead the workers to endure the idea, consciously or not, that they are participating in a crime. The lack of meaning given to this task, which can even be perceived as barbaric, can also generate troubles.
  4. If we imagine that we can find a meaning to the act of killing, which could be the man’s need to 4. dominate nature or the need to have a connection with his animal part, it seems difficult to perceive it in the industrialized and capitalist organization of the slaughterhouse. The rate imposed on the workers leads to a banalization of death. It seems that they only have to « cultivate their insensitivity »(Steak Machine, Le Guilcher, 2017) if they don’t want to suffer too much.
  5. 5. The feelings of domination and segregation seem to be more present in the slaughterhouse than in other industries. This is what Timothy Pachirat, professor in political science, explains in the book Every Twelve Seconds, industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight, which he wrote after having infiltrated the biggest slaughterhouse in the united states for several months.

According to Pachirat, these feelings of domination and segregation result from power relations that take place in the industrialized slaughterhouse through the process of « concealment ». Since Napoleon’s decree of 1807 (Mechanization takes command, Siegfried Giedion, 1948) these structures have been built outside cities, in order to make the « unacceptable acceptable » (Every twelve seconds). According to Pachirat, whenever a labor is« considered morally and physically repellent by the vast majority of society that is sequestred from view rather than eliminated or transformed » (page 11).

The distancing is achieved on several levels; from the cities and the surrounding inhabitants, to within the slaughterhouse, which generates a totally impervious and closed on itself building.

Pachirat explains that the construction of walls inside the slaughterhouse separates the« zone of privilege » (in particular the front office, which is the socially acceptable window of the slaughterhouse) and the « zone of production ». And if the wall between these two entities separates spaces, it also tells us that it separates « races »« social classes », and different « educations »(page 27).

The walls, which could be imagined as fences that allow or not to see some things, would allow to segment, divide and categorize a lot of things, in addition to creating spatialities. The wall that separates the reception desk and the « killing »would generate oppositions between the « creative »and the « rote », between « North » and « South », between « white »and « brown, yellow and black », and between the « civilized »and the « barbarian » (but also between the« task-conceiving » and the « task-executing », between the « managerial » and the« subordinate » and between « clean »and« dirty »,  pages 27-28).

These oppositions are reinforced by the materials and the lights implemented in the different spaces. If Pachirat speaks of the front office as a « glazed »« white »« clean » and « transparent » space, he tells us that the fabrication department is covered with « raw concrete »,  « corrugated iron » and that there is « no natural light entry ». Andwhen he describes the space of killing, he does not even speak about the materiality of the walls and the light because what happens in this place seems to take over all the rest. It relates the importance of odors in this space, wich vary, but which always result from work in body fluids such as « blood »« vomit »,« bile »« urine », pieces of «brain matter» and « feces » (page 40).

This allusion to a place where there is organic and tribal odors seem to belong to an instinctive and primitive part, carefully removed from the view today.

The architectural project questions the principle of « concealment » in an attempt to resolve, at least partially, the problems of domination and segregation in the industrialized slaughterhouse. This is achieved through greater transparency with the aim of reducing the suffering of the workers (as well as the suffering of the animals, if we assume that those two are linked) implying a whole reorganization of the structure, of the labour as well as of the spaces.


What prompted the project?

I did my first year of Master degree at the national school of architecture of Saint-Etienne. This year totally changed the vision of the architecture that I had and the way I designed a project. I studied in a studio entitled « Architecture as a Political Practice », supervised by Xavier Wrona and Manuel Bello-Marcano. In this studio, we reconsidered the presupposition according to what architecture is necessary link with a building and we tried to apply the organizating functions of architecture on the reading, the analysing and the solving of complex problems of our society.
We based our work on the problems about labor, about organization of labor. A solid theoretical background allowed us to conceive architectural projects based on sociological, economical and philosophical research. Some people in the class have designed a project based on the book « Every twelve seconds – industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight » that Timothy Pachirat wrote.
I was already interested, for intimate reasons, by the links between labour and suffering. And this context of industrialized slaughterhouse seemed to be a good example to try to analyze these links, especially as the the suffering in the slaughterhouse is a current issue. Many actors of society – journalists, sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists… – write and debate about this issue. The fact that many people from different backgrounds are interested in this question has helped to broaden the horizons of my opinion.
Also, I have to say that I have a strong relationship with the animals. I grew up in the countryside, among farms, in the middle of animals that I fed, watched, and ate sometimes too. I worked as a volunteer in an association that try to rehabilitate monkeys, who have been adopted as pets, to a natural environment. I also worked in a supermarket butchery during school holidays. In fact, I’ve always asked myself a lot of questions about animals, and about the relationship we had with them. And trying to prevent human suffering, in my opinion, made possible to prevent animal suffering, because it seems that men and animals are linked.
That’s why I first chose to write my master’s thesis on the existence of links between the organization of labour and the suffering in the industrialized slaughterhouse.
Then, it seemed naturel to me to propose, for my diploma in architecture, a slaughterhouse project based on this thesis.

How important were texts as Every twelve seconds - industrialised slaughter and the politics os sight" for both the research and design?

For a long time, I had trouble in understanding the value of architecture. I couldn’t design projects that made sense. I just perceived architecture as an aesthetic gesture, probably because I missed something in the teaching that I had in school.
But finally, I understood that architecture, or design, couldn’t be practiced as disciplines disconnected from current political and societal issues. And so all the research done on these topical political issues seems important to think an architectural project. Thanks to Timothy Pachirat’s « Every twelve seconds – industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight », and also to other texts, I was able to better understand the stakes of a slaughter building, in order to try to answer them through an architectural project.

What were the main issues shared by the workers at La Reunion? How were these addressed in your design?

After having discussed with two workers of a slaughterhouse, I understood that the main problems of this work was, according to them, the pace imposed by the chain of work, the repetition of the tasks and the total disconnection with the outside world (the workers working in a closed box had no notion of time).
In this project, I wanted to reorganize the work no longer around a chain of slaughter where each worker is engaged in a specific task, but in a space that allows each worker to perform all the tasks. A room for rituals was also conceived before the kill space, so that the workers could, if they wish and as they want, come into contact with the animal. Of course, setting up this organization of labor can not be as profitable as with today’s industrial organization. I decided to assume this idea, believing that, in any case, the consumption of meat couldn’t continue as today, above all for ecological reasons.
The disconnection with the outside world resonated with the issues of transparency developed by Timothy Pachirat in his book. After emancipating the organization from the industrial constraints, it was necessary to redefine the degree of transparency of the building in order to reduce the suffering felt by the workers in this place.

Can you expand on the notion of transparency and how your project addresses this?

The industrial slaughterhouse is built according to a principle of dissimulation, as explained by Timothy Pachirat. It has been almost 200 years since the slaughterhouses were built away from the act of killing. Distancing the slaughterhouse resulted in more violent and repeated kills. The only people who knew about the violence were the workers who agreed to work in secret (workers in slaughterhouses have always worked in secret, and today they still have to sign a clause that forbids them to share images of their work). According to Pachirat, whenever a labor is « considered morally and physically repellent by the vast majority of society »,it is « sequestred from view rather than eliminated or transformed » (« Every twelve seconds », page 11).
And if the principle of dissimulation has been made in relation to the rest of society, it has also been done inside the slaughterhouse. Killing is hidden from the view of citizens, but also from other areas of the slaughterhouse.
Pachirat develops in his text the notion of « politics of sight ». This could allow a better control of individuals. He says that the very intense relations of power in the slaughterhouse works through« condinement », « segregation »and « invisibility ». According to the writings of James C. Scott on which Pachirat relies, « a central characteristic of modern power structures is their impulse to rearrange and, if necessary, exterminate and create anew their subjects in ways that approximate an ideal of perfect visibility »(« Every twelve seconds », page 13).
The question of visibility would therefore be related in the control of individuals. This is also evoked by Michel Foucault in « Surveiller et punir », in which he makes abstract the panoptic – the model of prison imagined by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham – to apply it to the « disciplinary » society, which would be based on control. The panoptic was created to allow one person in the center of a circular structure to monitor all the cells of the prisoners around. The goal of this architecture is to create a permanent control, without the feeling for the people that they are under control. It seems that the industrial slaughterhouse is a kind of panoptic, because every worker can be watched by everyone.
The principle of dissimulation applied to the slaughterhouse seems to be linked to a principle of domination, and thus to segregation.
By opening up to society, the slaughterhouse could become more accessible. And it seems that domination and segregation couldn’t be as massive as today if they were more visible.
In this post-industrialized slaugtherhouse project, I tried to change the visibility slider in order to integrate slaughter work with society, to try to prevent feelings of domination created by those intense relationships of power. I first decided to burst the different slaughter spaces, normally confined in a single close block. I opened each space with windows to allow connections between outside and inside. Outdoor rest areas have taken place between the closed spaces. I arranged the different spaces necessary for the slaughtering and processing of the meat in a certain order so that, from the road that borders the plot, everything is not visible. The meat sales area and the transformation spaces can be visible, but the kill space is further back, without being totally impermeable, because I opened in this space the views towards the mountain to allow a connection between workers, animals and landscape.

What role do materials hold in the project?

I wanted to implement materials totally different from those that exist today in most industrialized slaughterhouses, like the light and cold materials such as metal and steel. I imagined the project in basalt stone, because the use of a heavy material allows, I think, to root the building in its context. It was a way for me to show that we have to assume these buildings, to assume the presence and the operation of these buildings. Also, the basalt stone is the only local material that could be used for construction in La Réunion, so it’s much more meaningful to use it.

How important was the drawing as medium through which to explore and discuss the topic?

It’s very important for me to express a project with drawings. But I prefer illustrations that technical architectural drawings that only the architects can understand. The illustrations allow a fertile imagination, and thanks to illustrations we can be able to invent stories and to come out of ideas. Anyone can appropriate this kind of drawings, and this is interesting for me, because it opens up discussions with people who are not necessarily architects. Also, the drawing is for me a fabulous way of exploration because that give me the opportunity to test an idea. When I have an idea, I try to translate it into an illustration that may be appropriated by everyone. If I do not succeed, I know that I have to give up my idea.

What defined the language of representation? What role does the monochromatic palette hold?

To communicate around this project, I wanted to homogenize as much as possible my drawings, so that they can be put in a certain order to be able to tell a story. Making drawings on the computer was for me a good way to make them homogeneous, because all the lines have the same thickness, they are all similar.
I wanted, with this project, to try to have an impact on the reflections about the work of slaughter, and I needed to express this with a strong visual impact. That’s why I chose to apply areas in negative on my drawings, to create a strong contrast between black and white.
With my more « technical » drawings, like plans and sections, I decided to integrate textures to try to give relief and depth to make them less « technical » and more illustrative.

To what extent are you interested in developing themes as this further?

The school was the perfect place to make research on those kind of topics and to develop theoritical projects on it. Today, I am graduated, I work as an architect, and it seems much more difficult to develop themes like this in an agency. But it’s not so much that kind of themes that interests me ; it’s rather the way of doing the project based on current political questions, and I think that this is always possible.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

In my opinion, doing a project is like telling a story. Telling a story is what makes possible to gather everyone in a project, architects or not. Telling a story is interesting to open discussions. And the project can be changed by rewriting a part of the story. These stories can be told through different tools, through words for example, but also through images. These tools are, I think, really important for the architects.