The Factory

Manchester, UK

The Factory is a unique new cultural venue for Manchester. Developed on the former Granada Studios site, the main performance spaces sit over nearby Water Street and its retained historic rail arches. The interconnected performance spaces comprise a large warehouse building that contains a full technical grid and an adjoining, more conventional theatre. The spaces can be subdivided or work in tandem to create a unique spatial and technical backdrop for artists to create and present work.

Building on the success of the Manchester International Festival, The Factory will commission, create and present performances, visual arts and popular culture to a combined audience of up to 7,000. A centre for all types of arts and culture, it will offer space for artists and thinkers to make, explore and experiment, and for communities and individuals to meet, exchange ideas and learn new skills.


Lack of space on the site was one of the key challenges faced in the project. The Factory site is constrained on all sides, presenting unique problems that required unique solutions. To the south, the Grade II listed railway arches were complex to work around as firstly, they could not withstand increased loading, and secondly, heritage consent was required for any interventions to the arches. Water Street to the west, running under the building and Grape Street to the north are both congested with nearby utilities, which made finding locations for new foundations difficult.

Optimising the acoustic performance of the new venue was a complex imperative. The envelope of the building was required to prevent noise breakout from events emitting sound as loud as 110dB in each performance space, so as not to impact both adjacent residential flats and other performances within The Factory.

A concert taking place at The Factory
Reloading the historic Grade II listed rail arches that the new building sits over was a significant challenge. Image: OMA


The Buro Happold team worked hard to address the site constraints whilst maintaining the architectural vision. Rather than surcharging the arches, holes were drilled through the arch to place the structure onto a new set of piled foundations within the arches. A non-standard solution was used on Water Street to the west side, with the creation of a long-span structure cantilevered over the road. This approach overcame the issue of the road limiting the places where the structure could be taken to the ground. It also ensured the columns were a safe distance from the fibre optic cables in the pavement.

Visual cross-section of The Factory
The divide between the two main spaces is moveable so each space can be operated independently as required, making the venue truly flexible. Image: OMA

Acoustics were of vital importance in this project. The control of noise break out from the building is achieved via a double skin high mass facade, with the external skin mounted on acoustic isolation bearings. The design of the supporting long span steel frame was optimised to limit movement between adjacent precast panels and this reduce the risk of noise leakage.

Exterior view of The Factory
The control of noise break out from the building is achieved via a double skin high mass facade, with the external skin mounted on acoustic isolation bearings. Image: OMA


Buro Happold delivered a raft of highly technical, non-standard solutions that meet the client’s aspirations for a multi-functional, flexible, cultural centre. The Factory will provide huge benefit to the city of Manchester, securing its permanent place as a centre for creativity, innovation and learning in the city.

Concert taking place inside The Factory
The team at The Factory plan to work creatively with local communities, involving them as artistic collaborators to participate in projects and productions shaped by them. Image: OMA
Entertainment at The Factory
The Factory strengthens Manchester’s reputation as a centre for culture, digital innovation and the creative industries, drawing tourists and innovators, boosting the city’s economy. Image: OMA

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