Principal Architects: OMA
Delivery Architects: Ryder Architecture
Main Contractor: Laing O’Rourke
Subcontractor: Mansell Building Solutions
Aviva Studios, the home of Factory International in Manchester, is a groundbreaking £226m culture centre designed to host diverse activities, including theatre, dance, concerts, exhibitions, and conferences. With a standing capacity of 5,000 and 2,000 seating, this multi-faceted 13,350m2 space required a unique sound insulation and acoustic design approach.
Designed by OMA with delivery architects Ryder Architecture, the new venue is built on the former Granada TV site. It features a hexagonal-shaped theatre and a vast 21m high warehouse space with moveable partitions that can be configured in multiple ways. This enables the two spaces to be used simultaneously for different events. For example, the warehouse space could host a concert while the rest of the building is split into intimate theatre areas. However, sub-dividing such a sizeable volumetric space presented a complex acoustic challenge for the project’s executive architects, Ryder Architecture. This was further exacerbated by planning restraints around noise levels due to the building’s proximity to residential blocks.
As Drew Wiggett, Architectural Director, Ryder Architecture, explained: “Both the theatre and warehouse are a box-within-a-box construction. This is quite a common design for theatres, where an inner box, which is the main internal space, is encased by an outer box. The internal box is acoustically isolated from the outer one, where heavyweight materials help dampen external low-frequency noise and vibration. Normally, you would have one theatre space with this design; you wouldn’t do it in a space of this size, so we were on uncharted territory.”
Ryder Architecture collaborated closely with Knauf and subcontractor Mansell Building Solutions during the design stages, speaking daily and often meeting weekly to ensure the complex specification requirements were met. As many products would be used in a non-standard scenario, Knauf suggested possible stud arrangements for the partition. Acoustic specialists then calculated these options to verify whether the proposed products would work.
In addition, as up to six boards were going to be used instead of the standard two, a structural engineer calculated the steel framing system as no one knew if the weight of the heavy board would pull the frame down or whether the screws would hold.
The final result has been a combination of Knauf products, specified primarily for their acoustic performance. These include Knauf Vidiwall high-performance plasterboard for the partitions, Corridor 400 and Heraklith® wood wool acoustic panels for the ceilings and walls in the warehouse area and Solopanel for the theatre.
“Installation wasn’t straightforward,” explained Barry Stoddart, Contract Manager for Mansell Building Solutions. “The box-in-a-box design in the main warehouse area created some confined spaces, particularly the cavity between the two boxes. This was 2m wide by 30m high, so the walls had to be constructed in a tight space.” Knauf Vidiwall board was used in these restrictive spaces to meet the strict acoustic and fire performance requirements.
The theatre’s shape was also challenging as the hexagonal design created complicated radius walls and bulkheads. Knauf Solopanel was installed in some of these areas as the product’s continuous perforations provide a striking, monolithic surface and exceptional acoustic absorption.
“We were pushing products to the extreme,” concludes Drew Wiggett. “It was a really intense period, and we spoke to the team at Knauf once or twice a week and were constantly emailing. We asked a lot from them, but their service and products were excellent.”
The project highlighted the importance of collaboration throughout the supply chain, from initial specification and design all the way through to product delivery. Knauf worked closely with distribution partners Encon & Nevill Long to supply product throughout the project.
Simon Mutch, Business Unit Manager - Interiors, Encon & Nevill Long North West, explains: "Our excellent supplier relationships really came to the fore, as we worked closely together to overcome challenges and keep this ambitious project progressing smoothly. Consistent communication with Knauf and Knauf Insulation allowed us to secure the necessary products and make first drop deliveries to site five days a week. Flexibility on all sides was paramount in keeping this project moving forward to completion."
The Aviva Studios officially opened in October 2023 with the premiere of Danny Boyle’s immersive performance, Free Your Mind, based on The Matrix films.