Factory tour official MIF MCC p.Factory International

Laing O'Rourke is nearing completion of the project. Credit: Pawel Paniczko

GALLERY | Manchester’s £210m Factory vision close to realisation 

The 143,000 sq ft music, arts and culture venue will stage its opening event in a little over a year’s time. Place North West went to have a look at how the project is progressing. 

Factory International, billed as one of the most ambitious art spaces in the world, cost £210m to build and will provide a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival on the site of the former Granada Studio within Allied London’s St John’s district. 

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It’s what’s inside that counts

From the outside, Factory is a curious, hulking mass of corrugated metal and concrete. Inside, the venue comprises two main event spaces, the warehouse and the hall. The spaces are designed to be flexible, capable of being reconfigured as the demands of particular shows dictate. 

This is made possible through the inclusion of huge sliding doors that are as tall as four double-decker buses stacked on top of each other. They allow the space to be divided or opened up as required. 

The warehouse is conceived as one large industrial space, left bare to be adapted by its users as they see fit and could hold around 5,000 people. 

The hall, another of the venue’s main spaces, features a 1,600-seat auditorium with a flexible stage. 

A double truck lift to allow vehicles to be elevated from the street to inside the venue forms a key part of the building, making it easier to set up and take down sets. 

The lift is also important given that Factory has limited back-of-house space, a deliberate ploy aimed at maximising the amount of space available for performers to use. 

Factory tour official MIF MCC p.Factory International

The hall and warehouse are divided by huge guillotine doors. Credit: Pawel Paniczko

What the architect thinks 

It is almost four years since Manchester City Council granted planning approval for the OMA-designed project, but the architect who has led the scheme is pleased with how it is taking shape. 

“I cannot judge everything yet because it’s not completely finished, but from a spatial point of view and what you could do with those spaces, I feel confident,” said Ellen van Loon, partner at the Dutch architecture practice. 

The challenge of creating a space that creatives and performers would use was one that required a lot of thought. Van Loon was surprised at what came out of consulting with artists. 

What she found was that they were not forthcoming with ideas about how to create the ideal performance space. 

“When you ask [artists] ‘what is your perfect space’, you actually don’t get an answer,” she said. 

Indeed, she now realises that it is often the space itself that informs the work, rather than simply facilitating it. 

“I’m really looking forward to when the building opens and seeing how they’re going to use it, and what they’re going to do with it,” she said. 

Factory’s levelling up potential 

The government has pumped £100m into Factory, the largest amount of funding for a national arts project in the UK since the Tate Modern, which opened in 2000. 

Minister for culture Stuart Andrew said the government’s contribution to Factory International is a tangible manifestation of its levelling up agenda and will help “redraw that cultural map” and bolster culture in the North. 

“I hope it proves our commitment to distributing funds right across the country so that all the investment doesn’t just go to London and the South East,” he said. 

“In the Levelling Up White Paper, one of the core objectives talked about culture and it’s crucial role in helping with community identity and shifting the perception of places that, frankly, too many people have about many of our northern communities and cities.” 

Factory tour official MIF MCC p.Factory International

Credit: Pawel Paniczko

Van Loon can see similarities between her home city of Rotterdam and Manchester and hopes Factory can provide much more to the city than just live performances. 

“They are both former industrial cities that had to reinvent themselves. Of course, [in Rotterdam] we also have a city where we have some social problems, as has Manchester,” she said. 

“What I hope that this building does is that it gives a big boost to the creative industry that is flourishing in Manchester. And I’m not talking about professionals, you know, because hip-hop started on the streets, not in an expensive venue.  

“I hope that this is the house for any person in Manchester that has this ambition, for creating work. I think it should really be a social incubator.” 

Finishing line in sight 

Almost four years after construction started, main contractor Laing O’Rourke is on the home straight and plans for a blockbuster opening event have now been announced. 

Danny Boyle will direct an immersive experience based on the Matrix films called Free Your Mind that will run from 18 October 2023 to 5 November 2023.

The show will feature contributions from choreographer Kendrick ‘H20’ Sandy, composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and designer Es Devlin. 

This will begin next October a few months after the 2023 edition of the Manchester International Festival, which will act as a soft launch for the venue before Free Your Mind kicks off. 

Factory tour MIF MCC p.PNW

Danny Boyle (second from left) will direct Factory’s opening show. Credit: Place North West

Construction challenges 

The development came forward during a volatile time for the construction industry and in October 2020, Manchester City Council announced an additional £45m would be required to complete the venue. 

In total the local authority has spent around £50m on the project and recently The Law Family Charitable Foundation chipped in with a £3m donation.

John McGrath, chief executive of Manchester International Festival, praised the city council for its commitment to the project. 

“The council has been such a great partner,” he said. “There has always been a really great sense that, whatever is thrown at us, we have to keep the project and the spirit alive.” 

“It has been an extraordinary and challenging time to be making a building and it’s very nice to be finishing and starting to think about how we fill it.” 

Project team: 

Architect: OMA 

Technical architect: Ryder Architecture 

Main contractor: Laing O’Rourke 

Structural, services and civil engineer: Buro Happold 

Services engineer: BDP 

Acoustic engineer: Level Acoustics & Vibration

Fire engineer: WSP 

Theatre consultant: Charcoalblue 

Vertical transportation: Pearson Consult 

Landscape design: Planit-IE 

Lighting consultant: BDP

Click any image to launch gallery 

Your Comments

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I’m guessing the bridge across the Irwell will then take another 3 years to open 🙂

By Levelling Up Manager

Other UK cities come up with great ambitious projects like this , but they don`t have backers like George Osborne strategically in place as Chancellor to majority fund it with £100m, and then lever in Lottery funding , plus Arts Council grant.
No doubt it`s impressive though !

By Anonymous

The outcome of this looks to be appallingly bad.

Everybody involved should be disappointed.

By Sarah

Good to see it can be used to walk through, akin to the Royal Exchange.

I really hope they use the venue for niche and mainstream events. MIF really suffers from an inclination towards the former.

By Anonymous

You should cut out the bit about social problems, not nice and completely untrue

By ChorltonRed

    Hi ChorltonRed! Thanks for sharing your opinion on this story. The part you are referring to is in a quote and someone else’s opinion. While you may disagree with Ellen’s thoughts I do not think it is fair to say it is untrue, as social problems can be found in every city known to man. – Julia

    By Julia Hatmaker

Shame they didn’t utilise one of the fantastic architects here in the city…

By Anonymous

Expensive, but should be a fantastic addition to the city.

By Anonymous

Maybe one of those buildings that will always be more impressive on the inside than the outside.

By Rich X

How fitting with every other monstrosity being built here.

By Anonymous

Sounds like Manchester was lucky to get this delivered…late though it is just before the the world financial systems tumbles off a cliff for the next few years. Great it’s almost here but what a struggle.

By Dave

£186m…….MCC procurement at its finest, what an awful waste of money, I’d be confident if this was in the hands of the private sector to deliver, it would have been 10’s of millions less and look a hell of a lot better!
No wonder so many private sector partners have tried to distance themselves from this.

By Sir

Pity it wasn’t delivered in time for the Eurovision. With this and the new arena being built in Eastlands Manchester is going to have an awful lot of choice when it comes to staging major events.

By Toldya

Design is terrible. The architects are just clueless. Yet another botched job in Manchester.

By John

The completed cgi’s look good, should link nicely down to the river.

By Trevor

“Redraw the cultural map?” If it wasn’t for the North West, this country wouldn’t have a Culture.

By Elephant

Brutalist and grey in fitting with Manchester

By Anonymous

Excellent job in the end…another great addition to the Northern Powerhouse.

By Jurgan smate

Stunningly good design, will be a great addition to Manchesters cultural venues.

By Anonymous

Interesting that the ,biennial, Manchester International Festival(MIF), which first only appeared in 2007, now has a dedicated multi venue space, costing at least £189m. Meanwhile the Liverpool Biennial which first appeared in 1999 has no real central venue but does collaborate with the Walker and the Tate, and then seeks a multitude of other venues as and when available. The MIF also does seem to benefit from an inordinate amount of attention and publicity from the BBC down the road.

By Anonymous

The whole St. John’s master plan is a botched job really. I love the idea of this building but it looks horrible, should be a statement piece like the Sydney Opera House (ok that’s a bit ambitious, but you get the idea). The rest of the area should be littered with unique and iconic looking skyscrapers.


Yes the whole of St Johns area could have been better. Even so when complete it will be so much better than it was and will link Spinngfields very nicely with the New Bailey district . Let’s face it Manchester does get an awful lot of investment which does somewhat elicit shall we say a jealous reaction from some quarters as evidenced in one or two comments here but that’s to be expected . If you’ve grown up knowing the city centre for many decades you’ll remember the dereliction, surface car parks, and lack of well paid jobs through the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. All of these new districts have brought a vibrancy to the city I never thought I’d see again in my lifetime and I worked here in the early fifties before a lot of the destruction had taken place. It was an incredible place to be back then and it feels like it is again despite the past few years. I can even travel in on a tram …that was another thing I never thought I’d see.

By Al

‘Following a £45m budget increase in 2020, the city council’s former leader Sir Richard Leese said the authority could not afford to contribute any more to the project.’
This white cubist elephant is a bottomless pit of public money, which will never be recouped. There’s a rumour circulating the arts community in Manchester, that the annual running costs alone will eventually top £9 million a year, just to rub a bit more expensive salt into the wound. An FOI will confirm or deny this of course – once it eventually opens.

By The elephant man

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