The arts
Show time

Four years late and £130m over budget, the UK’s biggest new cultural venue for years has opened in Manchester. Magali Robathan finds out if it was worth the wait


When Dutch architects OMA won the competition to design a major new arts venue for Manchester, they were given a brief to design a place where ‘anything could happen’. From the outset, the ambition was huge – to create a venue where artists could showcase large-scale ambitious works of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world.

On October 18, the £242 million Aviva Studio (formerly named the Factory) opened with a major show by film director Danny Boyle featuring 50 dancers, hip hop choreography by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, music by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, and set design by Es Devlin. Five thousand tickets for the show were made available for £10 or less – part of an ongoing affordable pricing strategy aimed at ensuring the venue is accessible to as many people as possible.

It is more than £130 million over budget and four years late, but there is no doubt that this is a major cultural addition to the UK. Upcoming events include a nine day programme of music, circus, art and fashion developed by Manchester residents; a two night show by musician Johnny Marr; a retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book by director Robert Wilson and folk duo CocoRosie; and a feminist theatrical reimagining of the BBC’s Robin Redbreast created with actor Maxine Peake.

A truly flexible space
OMA have delivered a highly adaptable building with two main performance spaces – the 21m-high Warehouse space, with capacity for up to 5,000 people, and the Hall, which features a flexible stage and can house up to 1,600 seated or 2,000 standing. A moveable full-height acoustic wall can be used to further divide the spaces as needed, and the Warehouse and the Hall can also work together – showcased by Boyle’s Free Your Mind performance.

It has been designed to cater for a wide variety of activities, from intimate concerts to huge raves, small scale theatre performances to major immersive exhibitions.

“I’ve worked on numerous theatres and performance spaces, but none compare to this one in terms of what it offers to performers,” said OMA’s Ellen van Loon, who led the project. “This venue serves as a platform, unlocking the full potential of the performing arts. All too often, abandoned post-industrial buildings and neighbourhoods are erased from the map, and with them the creative scenes that once thrived within them. This building reinstates what was lost.”

Economic boost
The project received £99.05 million of government funding – the UK’s largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000 – as well as £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England. It has been estimated that the venue will support up to 1,500 new jobs and add £1.1 billion to the local economy in its first decade.

“This internationally-important venue, extraordinary in scale and ambition, will open up a world of possibilities for people in Manchester – inspiring creativity and nurturing careers in the arts,” said Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council. “It’s a unique venue, a real asset for the future which will stimulate minds and spirits as well as acting as a catalyst to economic growth and opportunities.”

The building

The 13,350sq m building’s design is centred around large, open, flexible spaces that will continuously adapt and reconfigure to meet the requirements of work created and presented in the building.

Key elements include the 33m-wide, 64m-long and 21m-high Warehouse, with a theatre grid spanning the entirety of the area. The Warehouse features two supersized moveable ‘multiwalls’ which enable an almost limitless number of configurations within the expansive space.

Plugged into the Warehouse is ‘the Hall’, a 1600 seat auditorium with a flexible stage, able to accommodate ballet, theatre, music, and cross-art performances. The Hall and the Warehouse can work in tandem, allowing the stage to extend deep into the warehouse.

The design references Manchester’s industrial and cultural history through its use of corrugated metal and rough concrete. The building is lifted over Water Street and incorporates the 19th century arches from the Pineapple railway. Typically, venues of this size are relegated to the outskirts due to noise concerns. However, by enclosing the structure with dual layers of concrete and employing advanced acoustic techniques, the highest sound insulation was achieved, allowing the building to be part of the city centre.

Source: oma.com

The Free Your Mind team: Danny Boyle, Kenrick Sandy, Michael Asante, Es Devlin Credit: Photo: Rebecca Lupton
Johnny Marr will play several orchestral shows at Aviva Studios in December Credit: Photo: Fender/Dan Massie
The £242m building sits on the site of the former Granada television studios Credit: Photo: Marco Cappelletti
The Danny Boyle-directed Free Your Mind performance featured 50 dancers Credit: Photo: Tristram Kenton
The opening show showcased how the Theatre and Warehouse can be linked Credit: Photo: Marco Cappelletti
The Warehouse is an ultra flexible space that can be reconfigured as needed Credit: Photo: Marco Cappelletti
Credit: Photo: Marco Cappelletti
It is estimated that the venue will add £1.1bn to the economy in its first decade Credit: Photo: Marco Cappelletti
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2023 issue 4

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Show time

The arts

Show time


Four years late and £130m over budget, the UK’s biggest new cultural venue for years has opened in Manchester. Magali Robathan finds out if it was worth the wait

The opening show was directed by Danny Boyle and inspired by The Matrix Photo: Tristram Kenton
The Free Your Mind team: Danny Boyle, Kenrick Sandy, Michael Asante, Es Devlin Photo: Rebecca Lupton
Johnny Marr will play several orchestral shows at Aviva Studios in December Photo: Fender/Dan Massie
The £242m building sits on the site of the former Granada television studios Photo: Marco Cappelletti
The Danny Boyle-directed Free Your Mind performance featured 50 dancers Photo: Tristram Kenton
The opening show showcased how the Theatre and Warehouse can be linked Photo: Marco Cappelletti
The Warehouse is an ultra flexible space that can be reconfigured as needed Photo: Marco Cappelletti
Photo: Marco Cappelletti
It is estimated that the venue will add £1.1bn to the economy in its first decade Photo: Marco Cappelletti

When Dutch architects OMA won the competition to design a major new arts venue for Manchester, they were given a brief to design a place where ‘anything could happen’. From the outset, the ambition was huge – to create a venue where artists could showcase large-scale ambitious works of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world.

On October 18, the £242 million Aviva Studio (formerly named the Factory) opened with a major show by film director Danny Boyle featuring 50 dancers, hip hop choreography by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, music by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, and set design by Es Devlin. Five thousand tickets for the show were made available for £10 or less – part of an ongoing affordable pricing strategy aimed at ensuring the venue is accessible to as many people as possible.

It is more than £130 million over budget and four years late, but there is no doubt that this is a major cultural addition to the UK. Upcoming events include a nine day programme of music, circus, art and fashion developed by Manchester residents; a two night show by musician Johnny Marr; a retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book by director Robert Wilson and folk duo CocoRosie; and a feminist theatrical reimagining of the BBC’s Robin Redbreast created with actor Maxine Peake.

A truly flexible space
OMA have delivered a highly adaptable building with two main performance spaces – the 21m-high Warehouse space, with capacity for up to 5,000 people, and the Hall, which features a flexible stage and can house up to 1,600 seated or 2,000 standing. A moveable full-height acoustic wall can be used to further divide the spaces as needed, and the Warehouse and the Hall can also work together – showcased by Boyle’s Free Your Mind performance.

It has been designed to cater for a wide variety of activities, from intimate concerts to huge raves, small scale theatre performances to major immersive exhibitions.

“I’ve worked on numerous theatres and performance spaces, but none compare to this one in terms of what it offers to performers,” said OMA’s Ellen van Loon, who led the project. “This venue serves as a platform, unlocking the full potential of the performing arts. All too often, abandoned post-industrial buildings and neighbourhoods are erased from the map, and with them the creative scenes that once thrived within them. This building reinstates what was lost.”

Economic boost
The project received £99.05 million of government funding – the UK’s largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000 – as well as £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England. It has been estimated that the venue will support up to 1,500 new jobs and add £1.1 billion to the local economy in its first decade.

“This internationally-important venue, extraordinary in scale and ambition, will open up a world of possibilities for people in Manchester – inspiring creativity and nurturing careers in the arts,” said Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council. “It’s a unique venue, a real asset for the future which will stimulate minds and spirits as well as acting as a catalyst to economic growth and opportunities.”

The building

The 13,350sq m building’s design is centred around large, open, flexible spaces that will continuously adapt and reconfigure to meet the requirements of work created and presented in the building.

Key elements include the 33m-wide, 64m-long and 21m-high Warehouse, with a theatre grid spanning the entirety of the area. The Warehouse features two supersized moveable ‘multiwalls’ which enable an almost limitless number of configurations within the expansive space.

Plugged into the Warehouse is ‘the Hall’, a 1600 seat auditorium with a flexible stage, able to accommodate ballet, theatre, music, and cross-art performances. The Hall and the Warehouse can work in tandem, allowing the stage to extend deep into the warehouse.

The design references Manchester’s industrial and cultural history through its use of corrugated metal and rough concrete. The building is lifted over Water Street and incorporates the 19th century arches from the Pineapple railway. Typically, venues of this size are relegated to the outskirts due to noise concerns. However, by enclosing the structure with dual layers of concrete and employing advanced acoustic techniques, the highest sound insulation was achieved, allowing the building to be part of the city centre.

Source: oma.com


Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 4

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