Re-using ‘uncomfortable heritage’: the case of the 1933 building, Shanghai

John Pendlebury*, Yi Wen Wang, Andrew Law

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


This paper opens up a discussion over the processes of forgetting and remembering that occur in the adaptive reuse of quite commonplace buildings that, nevertheless, have been classified as ‘heritage’. For most buildings survival depends upon finding a new economic use once original use has ceased. At this point decisions are also made about what stories are carried forward from the building’s past. The principal case study discussed in this paper is the former Shanghai Municipal Abattoir, a modernist concrete sculpture now branded 1933 Shanghai. The paper delineates how a process of ‘strategic forgetting and selective remembrance’ has been undertaken, negotiating the bloody nature of the building’s past, in its reuse as an upscale commercial venue. Reuse is further considered within the wider frames of a 1920–1930s Shanghai urban branding ‘imaginary’ and as a ‘building of control and reform’–a category of buildings developed from the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment-thinking. In reflecting upon this negotiation in the heritage making process with potentially difficult past events, we propose the category of ‘uncomfortable heritage’, as part of a wider spectrum of ‘dark heritage’, and conclude with a final reflection upon 1933 Shanghai as a heterotopic space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-229
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Heritage Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2018


  • Dark heritage
  • adaptive reuse
  • buildings of control and reform
  • slaughterhouse, heterotopia
  • strategic forgetting and selective remembrance

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