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Manchester’s Ultra-Flexible Arts and Culture Venue at Aviva Studios, opens

Manchester-based arts and music company, Factory International’s new home at Aviva Studios has opened.

Located along Manchester's River Irwell, the 14,000 square meter building is the UK's largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000. It has been built to the highest standards of any culture and leisure project in the country to facilitate dance, theatre, music, visual arts and spoken word performances. The new venue is comprised of two buildings. Its main event space, the Warehouse, is one large, 21-meter tall, flexible container, left bare to be adapted by its users as they see fit. It can be used as a single space or subdivided into two, with full-height moveable partitions that provide acoustic insulation.


Productions of different scales can take place inside, from intimate performances to concerts with 5,000 people standing. The ceiling is a technical grid, with lighting, equipment, and rigging, that supports concerts and exhibitions alike.

The design of the building as well as the building services, acoustics and lighting - provided by BDP’s local team in Manchester - ensure audiences can enjoy world-class performances in a world-class setting.

The space is highly flexible, providing a seamless connection between art and public culture. The services and lighting also work to combine the front and back of house whilst providing views of the river and biodiverse landscaping beyond. The lighting design also regenerates the nighttime aesthetics of the area, connecting the new theatre to the architecture of BDP’s own Ordsall Chord railway bridge and footpath, which sits adjacent and links the river to the centre of the city.


Steve Merridew, Building Services Engineering Director at BDP, explains the project: “We really understand what a building like this means to Factory International and to arts and culture in Manchester. The connections to the city and the usability of the space were central to the project design. For the theatre to be able to adapt to different configurations and event types, the heating, cooling and ventilation solutions had to be dynamic and responsive, whilst avoiding any physical restrictions which would place limitations on the usage of the space.”

BDP employed full computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations of the HVAC systems in the theatre and warehouse to allow the systems to be optimised. A specialist acoustics team assisting to make adjustments that considered the use of the spaces and the building systems.  

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Merridew continues: “This was an extremely challenging and rewarding project to work on. To facilitate the flexible operation of the venue, and to support a huge range of production opportunities for artists, we had to get creative with the distribution of cables, ducts and pipework. We predominantly used the void between the buildings internal and external envelope. As this area also functions as the structural zone, this made it extremely complex. The result is a striking and highly-functional design that gives efficiency and longevity to an exceptional venue.”

BDP’s Senior Lighting Designer, Nick Meddows adds: “As the UK’s most significant cultural arts and performance space, it’s no surprise that the lighting was so integral to this exceptional building. The lighting scheme augments the industrial architectural form, while supporting flexibility in the way the spaces can be used.

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“It was a technically demanding design, incorporating multiple control protocols, interfacing with performance systems and complex emergency lighting. The layers of architectural and theatrical performance-related lighting make this building stand out in its location whilst supporting some of the best shows and performances in the country. Our design incorporated blues systems, technical grids and house lighting, all of which help the building to properly celebrate international arts and culture.”

The building is now open, showing a specially created performance called ‘Free Your Mind’. The show is directed by Danny Boyle and is a journey into the world of The Matrix film through dance and immersive design. This never-seen-before production stretches across the building and makes use of all the ultra-flexible spaces.


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