Your auditorium’s seating configuration is an important factor in determining your patrons’ comfort and capacity. We know there are many things to think about when designing the seating arrangement for your auditorium. Here are some basics to get you started.
1. Type of Stage
The auditorium’s stage type will give you an idea of how the space functions and the comfort of your patrons. There are many types of stages. These are the most common in auditoriums.
- This stage is often called the “theatre-stage”. This stage is popular in historic venues.
- The stage is usually framed or has an arch leading to it. Usually, an orchestra pit is included.
- The audience sits directly in front the stage.
- It can be as simple as a raised platform at one end of a room.
- It is similar to a proscenium stage, but without extra embellishments.
- The audience sits directly in front the stage.
- The audience sits on three sides of the stage.
- This creates a closer relationship between performers and audience.
- Popular design in worship spaces.
2. Different types of configurations
There are three types for seating in an auditorium:
- Straight Row
- Continental Seating
- Multiple Aisle Seating
Straight row seating is the most common type of seating and can be found in many historic spaces. Straight row seating is a straight-line arrangement with no chair stagger. These layouts allow for a variety of floor types, including sloped or raised floors.
Due to sight line issues, this configuration is not very popular in new construction. This doesn’t mean that it’s not used. It can be used in small spaces to increase chair quantity. This is also true for historic venues that often retain the original seating arrangements.
The continental seating arrangement will place chairs in large banks with two side aisles. The chairs are staggered and can be arranged in a circle, but there is no center aisle.
With increased safety regulations and awareness about patron comfort, this type of seating is also no longer in use. A proscenium is used to pair with the continental seating and is commonly used in historic performance halls. The historic code of these spaces states that there cannot be more than 99 seats in rows and that no more then 49 chairs can be placed per aisle. Safety is also important. There must be an exit at the end each five rows. Clear passage increases with row length. The maximum clear passage is 24 inches. However, shorter rows will allow for less clear passage.
Multiple Aisle Seating
Multiple aisle seating can be arranged on any combination of straight and continental seating. It also includes sloped floors, risers and chair stagger. The front rows can be laid on a flat surface while the rows to the back may be on slopes or risers. As is the case in churches, the seats can be arranged in straight rows in banks, with the banks angled towards the stage.
Multiple aisles allow patrons to enjoy the best view and comfort from every seat. Pairing with a Trust stage will give the audience a closer connection to the speaker or performance, creating a more intimate experience. It is important to consider the mix design when planning a mixed-use design for a new space. An engineer who specializes in seating layout can help you maximize the space.
3. Sight Lines
Sightlines are the distance between the eye and the center of the screen or stage. A poor patron experience is caused by blocked sight lines. It’s therefore important to take into account the view from all seats in the house.
Sight lines depend on the central point of a space. Patrons must be able see the whole stage or screen in order to enjoy a performance theater. If the space is used for speakers, such as a church, patrons may be more focused on their faces and not the entire stage. If you have any questions about sight lines, make sure to fully understand the space’s purpose.
4. Safety, accessibility, and the ADA
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requires that accommodations be made in public places for people with disabilities. This applies to seating arrangements. It means that there must be space for wheelchairs and aisle-end seats with transfer arms (movable).
Here are some basic ADA rules:
- Spaces that require more than four wheelchair spots must be dispersed throughout the space.
- The wheelchair location must be on level ground with a companion chair at the same elevation. You can either fix or remove the companion chair.
- One wheelchair location must be at minimum 36 inches wide by 48 inches deep
- Disposable seating can be used in a wheelchair space if it is not necessary for the event.
The space’s capacity will determine the number of spaces that are available for wheelchairs. According to the ADA, if an auditorium is designed to hold 300 people, then there should be at least five wheelchair spaces. Be aware that codes can change by location and your seating provider will need to have code jurisdiction for the area in which you plan to place the seating.
The official government website has more information on the ADA and accommodation for persons with disabilities.
Safety is a top priority in all spaces. This means auditoriums need to have enough exits that are easy to access and also provide safety features such as handrails and safe zones for slope, aisle widths, riser height, and floor slope.
Safety codes may also differ by location. Seating providers rely on the architect for the safety code. Although patrons have a general idea of what is safe and not, it is important to understand the specific code restrictions in order to comply with local or state law.
5. Clear Passage
Clear passage refers to the distance between the chair’s front and the back. Clear passage is an important aspect of patron safety. The International Building Code (IBC) provides formulae for calculating this space. Clear passage is currently 12 inches for 7-chair rows with access to one aisle, and 12 inches for 14-chair rows with access to two aisles. Clear passage is calculated for rows with more than seven or fourteen chairs.
Rows with more than 7 chairs and access to only one aisle
Minimum Clear Passage Chairs greater than 7 X 0.6%” + 12″
Rows of more than 14 chairs, with two aisles access
Maximum Clear Passage Chairs greater than 14 X 0.33″ + 12″
Clear passage, for example, would be calculated if there were rows of 25 chairs and each side had access to an aisle.
Chairs with more than 14 people: 25 – 11
11X0.3″ +12 = Clear passage minimum of 15.3in
Your seating provider can help you determine how much space you require if you are unsure.
Layout engineers from your seating provider can help you make the most out of your seating arrangement, no matter if it’s a new space or if you have existing fixtures. You can create a space that is not only functional but also safe and comfortable for patrons.