City-centre arts venue recommended for approval by planners

A futuristic multi-use arts venue designed by star architect Rem Koolhaas’ OMA practice is poised to win planning approval from Manchester city council.

The £110m Factory venue, named in honour of legendary music label Factory Records, is earmarked for part of the former Granada Studios site on the edge of the city centre and is being jointly developed by the council and developer Allied London.

It is designed to bring together a 2,300 capacity theatre and a separate 5,000-capacity warehouse space for “immersive” events on part of the former TV studios site, which also incorporates grade II listed railway viaduct that would need to be altered for the scheme.

The Colonnaded Railway Viaduct currently hosts the 450 sq m Starlight Theatre, built for Granada Studios in the 1980s. The corrugated steel theatre building would be removed as part of the development.

Gardiner & Theobald is cost consultant and employer’s agent, Buro Happold is structural and civil engineer, Arup is acoustic engineer and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is fire engineer.

OMA's Factory proposals

OMA’s Factory, with the Colonnaded Railway Viaduct to the right


Recommending members of Manchester’s planning and highways committee to approve the proposals, planning officers said the 13,500 sq m scheme would bring a “major new cultural facility” to the St John’s regeneration area and create new jobs.

They added that the impact on the Castlefield Conservation Area, where the 1.8 ha site is located, and on neighbouring listed buildings – which include the grade-I listed 1830 Warehouse, Liverpool Road Station Masters House, and 1830 Viaduct – was outweighed by the benefits Factory would bring.

“The application site is considered to be an appropriate site for this type and size of building,” they said.

“The proposed scheme is a unique, high quality design of its time.

“It is acknowledged that the proposal could cause some harm to the settings of the nearby listed buildings, but that this would be less than substantial harm.

“It is considered that the harm to those settings is outweighed by the public benefits that the proposal would bring.”

They added that the “exceptional quality and design” of OMA’s proposed scheme also offset any “instances of adverse harm” and would “sustain the heritage values of the heritage assets”.

Government heritage adviser Historic England said that “subject to high quality materials, finishes and execution”, Factory had the potential to enhance its part of the conservation area by “opening it up to the public and being a cultural focal point” to bring in more visitors.

Manchester Conservation Areas and Historic Buildings Panel also raised no objections to the proposals but suggested that the venue should be moved further from the site’s listed arches to create more “circulation space” around the new building and reduce the “intrusion” on the existing structures.

OMA beat a high-profile shortlist of Zaha Hadid, Diller Scofidio & Renfro, Haworth Tompkins, Bennetts, Grimshaw, local practice Simpson Haugh, Dutch firm Mecanoo and Rafael Vinoly to win the project in 2015.

The council’s planning and highways committee meets to consider the proposals on Thursday.