It's costing more than £200m. But what exactly is Manchester's giant new cultural venue?
'Factory International changes the cultural ecology of the North West'
Dear Millers — welcome to our Thursday edition, which focuses on the enormous new cultural venue/theatre/arena that is emerging on the bank of the Irwell and will open next summer. It has run almost £100m over budget, with the council having to fork out another £25m this month.
But what is Factory International, as it is now being called? And what does Phil Griffin — a longtime architecture critic in Manchester, and a sceptic about this venue in particular — make of its prospects? He went to the programme launch event last week and has written a great piece. “You might, if you are anything like me, arch an eyebrow in innocent questioning of such colossal volumes of empty space in a climate of sky-high energy bills and cuts to public spending,” he writes.
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It’s costing £210m to build — £100m over its original budget. Now it has a name: Factory International
By Joshi Herrmann
“I don’t know another space like this in the world,” said Tate Modern Director Maria Balshaw last week. “It’s impossible to describe it without using the word ‘amazing’” chimed in Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.
They were talking about Factory International, Manchester’s new “landmark cultural space” which nears completion and hopes to welcome its first visitors in June next year for the 2023 Manchester International Festival. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s near the Science and Industry Museum on the Irwell, built on the former site of Granada Studios.
The venue is vast — extraordinarily big. As a press release from the council this week explains: “Its cavernous 21m high warehouse (with a capacity of up to 5,000 people standing) can be divided from its hall (which can house an audience of up to 1,600 seated or 2,000 standing) by a full-height acoustic wall — or opened up into one huge space.”
The arrival of Factory comes at eye-watering expense. We have just learned that the council will be asked to fork out an additional £25m to cover higher-than-expected building costs, taking the total budget (if it doesn’t rise any more) to more than £210m. As we’ve written about before, the project’s original budget was £111m, set in 2017 when Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas won the competition to design the building, so we’re talking about an overspend of almost 90%.
Around half of the total bill is being paid for by the government and lottery funding, and commercial and philanthropic fundraising is contributing too. But with this new injection, the council’s spending for this project will rise to more than £80m. “Separately, the Council will also underwrite Manchester International Festival’s increased costs for the fit out of the building which have also been driven up by soaring inflation by up to £7.8m,” says the press release, before adding that there is “scope for the Council to recover a significant proportion of these capital costs through a long-term naming rights agreement”.
So how is the building shaping up — and what on earth will it be used for? Last week, our regular critic Phil Griffin — who has been writing about architecture and the built environment in Manchester for decades — joined the great and the good at Factory International’s programme launch event. For years, he has been sceptical about the project and its grossly spiralling budget — how does he feel about it now?
‘Factory International changes the cultural ecology of the North West’
By Phil Griffin
Is Factory International — the very large, largely featureless silo that is finally completing in (too) close proximity to a trinity of Manchester’s Grade 1 listed structures — a theatre, circus, arena, gallery, showground or peoples’ palace?
“Fun Factory” is how a generation of Granada producers referred to the studio complex they worked in. A small black and white portrait of the American showman P.T. Barnum hung in every office in the Fun Factory, just to remind crusader journalists that whatever else they might think they were doing, they were in the entertainment business.
Theatre is too small a word. ‘Theatre’ is to Factory International as ‘Bookshop’ is to Amazon. It’s probably worth reminding ourselves, though, that historically we’re good at theatre. Miss Horniman invented Rep in a building roughly where the Midland Hotel is today. The Royal Exchange blew the doors off theatre design when it opened in 1976. Factory International is not so much a theatre then, more an omni-arts venue for interdisciplinary international collaboration, presentation and appreciation. An arts hall, if you will; Mackie Mayor for cultural grazers.
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