MARSEILLE’S ANCIENS ABATTOIRS is a marginal site drained of its original utility, but not devoid of program.
A fissure in the city’s fabric — impenetrable, indiscernable and exclusive — Marseille’s Anciens Abattoirs is a marginal site within a complex post-industrial, postcolonial context. Treated opporunitistically using minimal means, Les Abattoir can become porous, legible and integrated – an urban attractor in Marseille’s quartiers nord.
In Europe’s densely populated cities, the marginal site, evacuated of its original program is virtually immediately reprogrammed through informal, emergent uses. On the very same day that Marseille’s slaughterhouse stopped production, long before the smell of the butchery had aired out, a group of artists moved in to occupy a portion of the site. Drawn to the large-scale 20th century buildings juxtaposed against 19th century remnants on the classically-gridded streetscape, the squatters simulated the kind of urban setting necessary for activist, outdoor theater. Over the years, numerous performers and visual artists, as well as local artisans, have claimed stake of the Anciens Abattoirs, and disparate informal programs have mushroomed. In the recent past the site has accommodated galleries, a tent for acrobatics training, circus performances, outdoor film screenings, dance parties, etc. Once a year, however, the grand slaughter hall is used for l’Aid-el-Kebir, a religious celebration during which 6000 moutons are slaughtered in keeping with Islamic ritual.
While the site is deployed vigorously by multiple users, it remains a point of contention in the urban landscape. The artist community, which informally germinated at the Anciens Abattoirs, has deployed the existing walls and gates to effectively quarantine the site from the remainder of the neighborhood, making pedestrian flow highly challenging. The neglected aesthetic of the site has a fantastic but bleakly uninviting and impenetrable quality, privileging the interests of ‘creative’ squatters over local residents. Les Abattoirs serves to test the idea that emergent program , treated strategically, can reinvigerate marginal sites, posing the following questions: Can disparate, emergent programs, inscribe coherency and seed the reintegration of a site? Can informal, temporary uses serve as catalysts for multiplicitous urban grounds? And finally, can a marinal urban site be reappropriated without becoming overtly officialized? The project deploys existent programming to create an active core, flexible exhibition spaces, and integrated public grounds.