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Aviva Studios render (Image by OMA)
Talks and lectures

RIBA+VitrA at Aviva Studios: Ellen van Loon, OMA - architecture for expression

Join us for this event in the RIBA+VitrA series where we will experience the newly opened Aviva Studios in Manchester and hear from architect Ellen van Loon of OMA.

Join RIBA+VitrA for a unique event at Aviva Studios, the new permanent home of Factory International and the landmark new cultural space in the heart of Manchester, creating a global destination for arts, music, and culture. 

The key to the design of the building is its flexibility, offering a new type of performance space; a unique crossover between a fixed theatre and an open warehouse setting, conceived to create multiple opportunities and limitless configurations and environments.

At street level, the design has created a significant area of public space along the River Irwell. The building’s concrete and corrugated metal facades stand against the surrounding refurbished brick buildings, offices, and studio spaces that make up the new St John’s neighbourhood. 

About the speaker

Ellen van Loon, partner at the international architectural practice OMA since 2002, has led award-winning building projects that combine sophisticated designs with precise execution.

Operating within the traditional boundaries of architecture and urbanism, her global portfolio brings a wealth of experience across different projects and clients. Her designs for Factory International draw on the site’s history, acknowledging the industrial past of Manchester, as well as its creative influences.

The evening will allow the audience to experience the space first-hand and hear from Ellen van Loon to understand more about the design and development of this new venue.  

About the event chair

John E McGrath is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Factory International. Appointed in 2015 to lead Manchester International Festival (MIF) and the development of its new building, he has since curated three festivals and led the vision and strategy for the new space.

Under John, MIF has built on its reputation for commissioning extraordinary work from the world’s greatest artists and forming ever-deeper relationships with Manchester’s many communities.

Artists commissioned by John for MIF include: New Order and Liam Gillick, Yoko Ono, David Lynch, Philip Glass and Phelim McDermott, Laurie Anderson, Maxine Peake and Sarah Frankcom, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Ibrahim Mahama, Tania Bruguera, and Marta Minujín. 

Awards include NESTA Cultural Leadership Fellowship, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University. Publications include Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy and Surveillance Space (Routledge 2004). 

About the performer

After the talk and presentation from Ellen van Loon, there will also be a performance from the architect and poet, Faz Barber, who will perform a special commission for this event.

Faz is a performance poet, and has performed in a variety of theatres, festivals, and television shows. He has a deep passion for entertainment and loves finding new ways to engage audiences within the performing arts.

In 2022, Faz was appointed onto the board at Factory International. In the same year, he was nominated for 'Young Creative of the Year' at the Manchester Culture Awards. In 2023, Faz's poem was chosen to be immortalised on a cast iron drain cover as part of the historic public realm regeneration in Manchester's Albert Square.

Faz trained in architecture and is a Part 2 Architectural Assistant at Stufish Entertainment Architects.


This event is part of the sponsored RIBA+VitrA talk series: Forms of Exchange – exploring the spaces in-between.

This partnership reflects a shared commitment to add social, economic, and cultural value to society, and VitrA Bathrooms are proud to be supporting such an inspiring programme.