Designing multipurpose spaces for the Performing Arts means treading a fine line – particularly where retractable seating plays a part. While artistic performances require an elegant, inspiring backdrop, retractable seating units are practical, mechanical fabrications whose performance can massively impact the day to day running of a venue.
But banish images of battered bleachers in high school gyms or industrial structures groaning under brawny seats in arenas. That crucial mix of style and performance is attainable, and Audience Systems' latest North American installations provide a wealth of examples.
The CityDance Center at Strathmore, Washington DC, is home to a truly multipurpose space; by day a professional grade dance studio and by night a professional theater. Their requirements were both aesthetic and fiercly commercial as Director of Operations Letitia Hays explains. "The studios are busy and multiple partners use the room. In order to create revenue streams and maintain our own schedule, we need a fast turnaround.” The seating however also had to look fantastic, and co-ordinate seamlessly with the space's interior finishes. The Center chose a combination of high specification TX Telescopic Seating Platforms, and classic upholstered Espace 628 chairs. The chairs were adapted for the auditorium with a beautiful combination of maple panelling and solid maple armrests. The retractable units themselves were finished with maple fascias and panels to blend calmly with the building whether open or closed.
Meanwhile at Rancho Santa Fe School Performing Arts Center, architect Debra Vaughan-Cleff (Principle, Webb Cleff Architecture and Engineering Inc.) was looking for an attractive, efficient seating solution. The existing venue had several limitations for retractable seating, such as limited headroom and minimal floor support. Debra explains, “To accommodate 324 seats in the space, we were going to be looking at putting seating on the stage, or creating a theatre in the round layout. But our preference was for still retractable seating so the District could use the space for a variety of purposes.” The District's research uncovered Audience Systems' double row depth system. Accommodating two rows of seating on each level, the system effectively allowed seating capacity to be doubled without having to reinforce the foundations or alter the building. Alongside these practical benefits, classic finishing to both the chairs and platforms ensure that the seating is no visual compromise – in fact enhancing the appearance of the room. “The finished seating is actually very beautiful – absolutely everything the District wanted”, comments Debra.
Houston Ballet - Retractable Bench Seating with Elegance
Even bench seats can do more for a venue than traditional bleachers. Houston Ballet's fantastic new minimalist facility includes the Dance Lab - an intimate Studio Theater and rehearsal space. Yes, bench seating was required for its flexibility and intimacy, but a standard bleacher lacked the finesse the space required. Audience Systems provided refined seating platforms encased in integral panels finished in black to melt into the background whether open or closed. The bench seating is padded and contoured for spectator comfort, upholstered in ghostly grey, and features a fold away backrest.
One of the prime purposes of seating – comfort – should not of course be overlooked. Canada's National Ballet School, Toronto, were looking to increase comfort for their patrons, some of whom were actually starting to avoid the venue. Audience Systems provided a retractable system featuring generous Espace 628CC chairs –specially designed for long term seating comfort. A luxurious fabric and tactile curved timber armrests add to the indulgent feel. Matching fixed and removable chairs grace the new balcony and wing areas as well as the floor. Head of Property and Operations Frank Randall comments, “The seating has been very well received from a patron perspective in terms of comfort and legroom. People are enjoying sitting in the theatre! Theatre staff are also very happy with the system from an operational point of view.”
So can retractable seating achieve the combination of looks and efficiency a performing arts venue requires? Visually, you can judge from the photographs. And operationally? "The Audience Systems seating is so easy to use,” says Letitia at CityDance, “I can set the telescopic system up on my own."
About Audience Systems
Audience Systems is one of the world's leading designers, manufacturers and installers of seating for performing arts, education and sports facilities. Headquartered in the UK, Audience Systems also has offices in Florida and Singapore. A rising star in the North American market, the company has installed seating at diverse venues including the Colorado Convention Center, Max M Fischer Music Center in Detroit, James Madison University Center for the Arts and Lord Fairfax Community College, VA. Globally, the company's flagship clients include the Royal Albert Hall, BBC Studios and the O2 Arena in the UK, The National Library Building in Singapore and Aspire Dome in Qatar.