Post #13 - 1933 Shanghai

Holy Cow! Have you seen 1933 Shanghai, formerly the Old Millfun? This old slaughterhouse was the inspiration for KTGA’s next spectacular grand bazaar event – The Vintage Zoo Fest. Think animal antics, beautiful butterflies and colourful creatures. Once again, KTGA have set the bar high and will be transforming the venue space on the fourth floor and bringing it to (wild)life!

The magnificent concrete, steel and glass building, based in the Honkou district of Shanghai, is a visually striking contrast set against Shanghai’s urban landscape as well as its local neighbourhood. Originally designed by Balfours, a British Master Architect, and built by the Yu Hong Ji Construction company in 1933, it is now the last remaining of its design in the world, with the other two, one in London and one in the U.S, having now been subsequently demolished.


The building features a 24-sided dome-shaped central building, housed within a square structure, the exterior of which is made up of distinct geometrical motifs and lattice windows. The 31,700m2 project reportedly cost around 3.3 million tael and was built to reflect the growth of the city - as the population grew, people got richer, they ate more meat, which meant more cows and therefore the largest slaughterhouse in the Far East was born. Tonnes of concrete was imported from Britain and despite the material being one of the more difficult to work with, it has become one of Shanghai’s most unique and stunning examples of architecture, whilst at the same time, served its original purpose as an abattoir.

Having stood outside and marvelled at its impressive external appearance, once inside, it truly is a feast for the eyes and senses, with its spiral staircases, sculpted ramps, all but 26 sky bridges and 4 verandas, altogether forming an intricate and complex maze-like structure. Whilst the eyes dart from bridge to staircase to gothic column (over 300 in fact!) and simultaneously taking in the light, the dark, the angled areas, the imagination runs riot at the thought of the cattle being herded down these ‘cattle-roads’ to its final destination. Although seemingly confusing paths, they apparently made sense to the cattle. Maybe they wouldn’t have been so keen to follow the herd if they knew exactly where they were headed. On the off-chance that one decided to make a run for it and cause a stampede, the workers could dive into one of the many staircases (width of one person) or one of the small sharp corners within the structure. A cleverly thought out design point.

Other well thought out design aspects include 50cm thick hollow walls to control the air temperature, particularly in the summer months, the lattice windows facing west (general wind direction in Shanghai) allowing for maximum air circulation, the air bridges being at different widths to control the flow of cattle from one area to another, rough floor surfaces to prevent the cattle from slipping and uneven ramps, also to prevent any flying cows whilst at the same time ensuring constant movement. There was also a religious design aspect built into it too – the west facing windows faced the same direction as the Buddhist holy land, which was said to aid with the animals’ reincarnation.

Since its use as an abattoir, 1933 Shanghai has served several purposes – a cold storage facility and medicine factory from the 1970s to 2002 - but underwent a substantial restoration project in 2008 to turn it into a commercial and creative centre after the building went into disrepair, costing around 100million RMB (how many cows is that worth?) The minds behind the major renovation project are Paul Liu, formerly of Three on the Bund and David Laris, restaurant owner also at Three. The main elements used to define the development were ‘lifestyle’, ‘design’ and ‘learning’ and has been fully restored to its former Art Deco grandeur. Currently, this unique complex contains boutique shops, cafes and restaurants and hosts high end events such as the Porsche 60th Year Anniversary, the Ferrari F1 party and of course the upcoming Vintage Zoo Fest event.

These large scale events are usually housed in the impressive 1,500m2 Sky Theatre, one of the main attractions of this little architectural gem. It features a suspended stage with an area of 600m2 and is surrounded by tempered glass flooring (don’t look down though!), each metre of which is designed to withstand loads of up to 400kg (would that be one cow or two?)

The KTGA team will be taking over both the Sky Theatre and the Basilica room to host their next extravagant event not only to embrace the building's history but to turn the place into a wonderful wilderness with its animal and zoo theme - making it come to life!. The memory of the slaughterhouse is slowly fading but just as its use was originally built to reflect the growth of the city, it is being shifted towards a brand new era, again to reflect the growth of the city, but in a more modern, vibrant and contemporary way – a mecca for lifestyle, design and learning.


Learn, explore and discover 1933 Shanghai through the Vintage Zoo Fest!

 Article by Lily Ip