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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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