Kill Floor.jpg

Division of labour on the slaughterhouse killing floor

The Unseen Labour Force: Animal Agriculture under Global Capitalism

exploring the role of architecture and planning in the objectification of marginalised persons within the British dairy industry

Over the past few decades, the animal agriculture industry has intensified beyond levels ever seen before. Neoliberalism prioritises maximising profits above all else, creating horrifying labour conditions and highly oppresive spaces of production for humans and non-humans alike.
    The capitalist tendency to divide consumer from producer manifests socially and spatially, physically separating
and concealing oppressed groups from the core of society and allowing a market identity far removed from the reality of production.


Global consumption of meat and dairy has quadrupled in the past 50 years, yet the majority of us still live our lives without ever encountering the moment of slaughter, the many years of exploitation leading up to it or the places that enable our sanitised and re-packaged animal products to exist.

    The dairy industry in particular hides production behind rebranded ideas of milk as 'natural', 'healthy' and even necessary. Much of society remains ignorant of the full cost of the constant pregnancies, lactation, intensive farming and slaughter.

From the global scale to the intimate, patterns of conceptual and physical separation allow the consumer to maintain a lifestyle isolated from the producer or production. Architecture and planning, designed under systems of power, play a key role in this physical division, perpetuating ignorance, oppression and power imbalance.

     The inequality between the Global North and the Global South is exacerbated through reliance on cheap animal feed, regional imbalance deepens as the burden of faster production falls upon migrant and lower class rural populations. Thousands of dairy cows are commodified as surplus, as milk machines living their entire lives concealed within factories of farming. Even within the slaughterhouse itself, the intimate divisions of the slaughterhouse floor segregate the moment of killing within one room, one role.

As the digital age of social media and video footage starts to reveal behind the closed walls, as our awareness increases and veganism is on rise; it is high time to question this concealment, segregation and repackaging. To uncover and dismantle the oppressive architecture of power so we can learn to construct a society that breaks down these barriers and lives in compassionate co-existence.

Written Thesis, TU Delft

April 2018

Published in The Sloth Journal, January 2019

Published in full via issuu


architecture of power

(in)visibility and concealment

human and non-human relations

socio-spatial justice

Symbolises the steps along the process that lets us treat sentient beings as products
Separation is a cyclical process, leading to further oppression, division, control, concealment, othering, power imbalance

“At the core of the capitalist system… lies the complete separation of the consumer from the means of production”

– Karl Marx, 1867


Global Scale | 'support British farmers'

Often overlooked by consumers and underreported by the industry is the intense energy and destruction involved in the production of animal feed for Western meat consumption.

     Dairy cows have been bred to produce milk yields far beyond levels their bodies can naturally sustain, leading them to be fed increasing quantities of cereals, particularly soy.

     Although it is possible to grow animal feed in the UK, neoliberal policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy drastically subsidise the importation of animal feed into EU countries, making it far more competitive to rely upon soy grown cheaply and exploitatively, predominantly in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

     Colonial patterns of domination and oppression are recreated as small-scale and indigenous plantation holders are outcompeted by conglomerate markets. It is both a financially and physically violent market, with armed police commonly forcibly evicting rural communities by night, burning the homes of indigenous persons and destroying vast swathes of the land that homes millions of humans and non-humans alike.

     Yet the profits from agribusiness are overwhelmingly held by 'The Big Three'. Repeated mergers have enabled the market to become controlled by the hands of very few, giving farmers little choice over the cost of seed and fertilisers, or the sale price of their crops.

Meanwhile, dairy products are packaged and sold in the UK under highly misleading campaigns of "supporting British farmers'. Emphasising the location of the dairy farm itself in the UK, the reliance and impact on Latin American comunities, resources and wildlife of feeding the dairy cows is ignored.

      Our ability to render what happens ''over there' as unseen and invisible allows colonial patterns of exploitation to reproduce under global capitalism, with communities of colour, indigenous populations and other species paying the price for our cheap milk.

Urban Scale | a citadel of power

Henri Lefebvre's work on the production of space recognises the re-creation of social systems of power through our organisation of space. Power tends to centralise, forcing the disempowered to the peripheries of development - outsiders.

     The capitalist city becomes a place of 'devouring activity, consumption' (Lefebvre, 2003), with products gravitating towards the city centre - a place of glazed store fronts, advertisements, high footfall and capital.

     Segregated from the reality of production, the cow's labour and the calf's milk is marketed and normalised as though designed for human consumption. Dairy companies invest huge proportions of their funding into nutritional research, school schemes and advertising campaigns in order to maintain the image of dairy as an essential food group.

     Dairy products are frequently given fun market identities which ignore the reality for producers and instead rebrand them to target young children, such as babybels, cheesestrings and 'laughing cow' cheese.

     Despite strong evidence of the health concerns around dairy consumption, showing that bone health actually decreases with increased dairy consumption; brand image, nutritional guidance and public perception still revolves around the normalisation and necessity of dairy consumption as a key part of the modern diet.

     As spatial planning pushes production ever further from urban centres, the dislocation of consumers from the reality of production allows increasingly false advertising, ignorant consumption and a concentration of control via consumer and industry capital.

World map with movement of capital from global South to rich countries highlighted. Facts and figures of profit division in dairy industry
Shop window advertises local milk in central London. Map of United Kingdom with locations of intensive dairy farms

Agribusiness: the distribution of capital from South to North

Urban 'interior' vs rural 'exterior'. Farming vs advertising

Local Scale | facade retention

As the urban interior develops, the periphery and exterior must also grow to supply it. However, far from our romantic ideas of open, happy rurality; the separation and concealment of production continues at the local scale.

     Farms are almost always located at the periphery of villages, or disassociated from development at all. As demand has soared, yet factors such as 'distance from housing and availability of screening' still drive site choice, farmed cows are raised in ever more intensive conditions.

     Beckland Farm is a CAFO style intensive unit of 1000+ cows on the North Coast of Devon, an area with a very sparse population, mainly used for agriculture.

     Originally a traditionally run farm, it has incrementally intensified over the past 20 years through a series of retrospective planning applications for additions of factory farming units and conversions to zero grazing.

     These expansions are all set back from the road, unseen behind the original 19th century stone farmhouses and barns that form the site facade. The expression of the farm remains traditional to the (infrequent) passer-by - the site plan itself becoming a tool of concealment.

     In stark contrast, Lower Brownton Farm Tea Room is a National Trust farm shop just 1km down the road - the world of the consumer. Here, the small stone farmhouse has been converted into tearooms, boldly serving clotted cream teas whilst still surrounded by open fields with no sign of the slaughter process, artificial insemination or zero-grazing that enables them.

     Despite industrialised units now being self contained, importing feed and exporting waste and therefore identically replicable in any location, it is still the most remote and hidden parts of the country that are tasked with production.

     When space and architecture are produced under systems of power such as capitalism and speciesism, they continue to reproduce the same social inequalities and divisions, physicalising them spatially.

Hand drawn map of farm layout showing concealment from road, secret new sheds

Intensification is concealed behind traditional facades

Intimate Scale | the ultimate taboo

Perhaps the most hidden part of all is the slaughterhouse.     

     Capitalist separation allows the consumer to pay others to deal with this aspect - 'to enable us to eat meat without the killers or the killing' (Pachirat, 2011).

     Abbatoirs have seen a similar trend towards consolidation and corporate ownership, and despite rising meat consumption, the 1900 abattoirs in 1970 now stands at just 63 in England (Harvey, 2018).

     Slaughterhouses are high-pressure environments requiring physically and emotionally draining work. Repetitive, harrowing tasks often cause the development of chronic pain, repetitive injury and very high rates of mental illness (Dillard, 2008).

     Correlations are frequently found between slaughterhouse presence and neighbourhood crime, as desensitisation normalises violence. The location of slaughterhouses in areas of low land-value, often within already deprived neighbourhoods, further targets marginalised persons and deepens existing oppressions.

     Hatherleigh is a rural town in West Devon, a ward ranking in the top 5% of income deprived wards nationally. The town is adjacent to a main road, accessible via two approaches - one opens out to the main streets, community centre and weekly farmers market' in a town square, the other is more of a back road, leading past the barred entrance to 'private property' - a slaughterhouse concealed behind heavy planting and an elongated private road.

     An understandably unappealing job, abattoirs rely on the exploitation of young, working class and migrant labourers to fill the jobs, working long hours at minimum wage.

     The impacts of spatial planning under systems of classism and xenophobia serve to prop up and enable an otherwise unsustainable industry. In reality, the idea that immigrant workers flock to the UK to take up the arduous jobs we don't want to take is false. Conversely, it is the oppression of disempowered and disadvantaged persons that continues to fill exploitative job roles and enables falsely cheap dairy products to continue to be produced.

Map of slaughterhouse and demographics of Hatherleigh, Devon. Abattoir presence and deprivation go hand in hand

Slaughterhouse presence correlates with social deprivation

Cows must live in tight spaces, ordered in linear layout for surveillance

The Factory Farm | 'housing' - an enclosing frame to cover, hide

The relationship between control, power and space is a reciprocal process. Spaces that are financed and designed by and for systems of power act in favour of that power imbalance, further heightening control for the dominant group.

     Factory farms are designed with the human farmer in mind, with very little thought for the needs and quality of life of the cows who are forced to inhabit the space.

     Plans are organised in long linear rows of small, individualised tie stalls. Each cow is confined to a tiny space, often too small to allow her even to turn around, lay down comfortably or groom her back. Naturally, she would live in a small group with a strong matriarchal structure, roaming and foraging widely.

     In the factory farm however, the priority is given to ease of access and enabling surveillance for the farmer. Dimensions are set up to accommodate the width of farm vehicle access, with the cows aligned in the remaining space.

     This prioritisation of surveillance and control over quality of life reinforces the model of control and power, commodifying the cow, denying her agency and privacy and subjecting her to conditions designed for the needs of the market - a constant and maximised supply of milk.

Diagram of tie stall used in british dairy farms

Ordering and control, maximising surveillance

A typical tie stall

Industrialisation | the milk machine

The factory style approach to design becomes ever more commodifying as we look to other buildings on the farm. Configured according to the needs of the powerful, functions do not follow needs such as rest, social space or comfort, but access for milking, feeding and impregnation - for maximising milk yield.

     To produce a constant supply of milk, the dairy cow must give birth every year. It is far more cost-effective to ensure this via artificial insemination, a highly invasive and unconsented process, controlled by those in power.

     The spaces designed to accommodate this process reflect and enable domination by the human, using 'breeding boxes' of narrow chutes and metal bars which the cow is chained to in order to prevent movement. Doors at either end pin her into position whilst the farmer inserts the semen from behind. (Powell, 2014).

     The shackles, restraint and complete removal of agency is designed into an incredibly oppressive space of enforced submission. She is treated as an object via an act which is incredibly alienating - the natural pregnancy process is absent and farmers often become emotionally detached from her protests. Consumers are often alienated from her pregnancy and its conditions at all.

     The ultimate move of power and alienation comes at the moment of birth, when the calf is almost immediately separated from the mother, causing incredible distress. If born male, calves are considered 'surplus' and are sent immediately for slaughter or are raised for veal. Females are often raised as replacement heifers.

     The first 8+ weeks of their life is commonly spent in yet another space of complete control and alienation. Veal crates form lines of individual pens, built with barely enough room to move and no chance for social contact. Instead, there is ample opportunity for a strictly controlled and maximised diet, fattening them up for efficient and premature growth.

The architectural image is equally industrialised, the accommodation of sentient beings appearing no different to the generic steel portal frames housing any other commodified product. Materiality is designed for easy cleaning and longevity, causing painful hoof wear, infection and lameness for the cow.

     The portrayal of the farm as a factory becomes normalised, leading us to accept the idea of cows as a commodity and object of production with little question.

warehouse compared to industrial farm building. Lines and rows of veal crates as far as eye can see

Veal crates with young calves

Farm unit vs warehouse unit - objectified and commodified

Producing Slaughter | on their head be it

In today's abattoirs, slaughter is designed as a highly compartmentalised production line, with each worker performing a specific, niche job. This facilitates incredibly high speeds and numbers of killings to occur, enabling inherently violent and traumatising work to become mundane and ordinary.

     Much like factory farm buildings, the slaughterhouse is concealed from the rest of society behind closed, windowless walls as just another generic industrial process. A public face - a reception comprising three glazed walls and a friendly white woman is completely divided in plan from the concealed and inaccessible killing floor behind the opaque back wall. This wall forms a symbolic and physical division between the public and the private - typically dividing White from BIPOC workers, female from male, managerial power from subordinate powerless, consumer from producer.

     At the other end of the building, the entrance sequence is starkly different. Each cow is unloaded from the truck and herded into a winding chute with an electric prod, the smell of blood, faeces and vomit and the open door of 'the knocking box' greeting her (Pachirat, 2011).

     Behind this wall, the production line begins. It is easy to assume that this comes with an inevitable openness and honesty, allowing us to demonise all who work beyond here. However, the production of slaughter is again highly divided and specialised, meaning that of the 120 workers on the killing floor, only one worker, 'the knocker', performs the act of slaughter itself, shouldering the psychological responsibility for all.

     This role frequently has a 'kind of collective mythology built up around him' (Pachirat, 2016), singled out as other, the culpable one and the scapegoat for all others to excuse themselves, workers and consumers alike.

     It is an incredible burden to bear and the mental health impact is well-known, with three monthly psychiatric appointments given as routine.

     The floor plan is distinctly separated on a number of levels. Some workers are 'clean', whilst others are 'dirty'. Whilst some are ''killers', others work in 'fabrication'. Some work with live animals, others with dead body parts. Differing timetables, uniforms and staff rooms make the division so absolute that only a handful of employees ever gain an understanding of the process as a whole.

     The spatial design is based solely on the needs of the powerful to achieve the extremely high speeds of slaughter needed to scrape a profit - one every twelve seconds. The plan is organised into a production line and divided into a hierarchy of control. the full view of the process available only to those watching over from the managerial office.

     Pre-existing social divisions and oppressions are recreated in the spatial plan, further invisibilising the most vulnerable in our society from public awareness.

Full diagram of abattoir process and jobs involved with slaughter. not vegan, animal abuse, division, concealment

Division of labour in a typical slaughterhouse. Information based on work by Timothy Pachirat, Every Twelve Seconds

It is not just the industry who profits from this concealment, but society as a whole. The physical separation involved in a capitalist system of animal agriculture directly reinfoces societal structures which function to animalise, dirty and rid ourselves of the unpalatable parts of society. In hiding these, those involved are further othered and banished to the exterior - out of sight and out of mind.

As an opposing force to 'programmed consumption', Lefebvre recognises the power of 'everyday life'. Our many individual choices combine to reach a power that can compete with and counter the hegemonic power of the industry elite. In working with the architecture of everyday experience, we are able to make spatial interventions that critique traditional and industrialised methods of food production and consumption to question our behaviours and affect our choices. We can break down the barriers and divisions that export the 'dirty' side of production to 'over there' and bring production and producers back into our physical and social lives.

     Breaking free from power structures such as speciesism, racism, classism and sexism will require us to build new ways to relate, co-habit and produce and consume our food.  An open and inclusive approach to spatial planning could start to reverse the current concealment and control from a model of hierarchy, concentrating the power with a few, to one which extends visibiilty out to all. This does not mean a move towards glazed slaughterhouses and open community farms, but working towards spaces that include a full diversity of other species. Other animals beyond those traditionally considered as farmed animals, animals who are  de-commodified and accommodated for their own needs, not ours.

     By bringing food production back into our everyday lives, the ignorance and dissonance bred through a physical separation can be broken down, allowing psychological, social and behavioural divisions to be brought into question too.

For further info:

- "Every Twelve Seconds' by Timothy Pachirat

- 'Space and Power' by Paul Hirst

- - for a whistle stop summary of the dairy industry

- The full written thesis is published via Issuu

- An abridged version was also published in The Sloth Journal, January 2019

Further Thoughts:

- Cultural Cultivation - graduation project exploring an alternative to animal-based, monocultural, segregated food production

- Intersections - exploring cross-species interaction in urban housing environments

- De-commodifying Waste: waste beyond the object: time, experience, race, gender, body - on the impacts of invisibility, commodification and segregation

- Veganism as a Social Justice Movement: thinking beyond the diet - on the fullness of veganism

- Architecture and Power: constructing divisions

- Architecture as Activism: constructive change