This article on Concert Hall design 101 is meant to be a wide overview of the various components that go into designing an auditorium. It discusses some general design guidelines and a few details to help you have a better understanding. We’ll cover auditorium lighting, stage design, fixed seating, and auditorium acoustics.
Whether you’re an architect or contractor tackling an auditorium design project for the first time, or whether you’re a building manager who wants a base understanding of the various components that make up an auditorium, our hope is that this article can give you a good introduction to auditorium design.
The Essential Question: What is the primary type of performance that audiences will see here?
Every performance type has specific geometries that support not only the staged performance, but also the audience’s experience. The first step to designing an auditorium is to become clear about what kinds of performances will happen, and what the audience’s experience of those performances should be.
Theatre and Dance performances, for example, are usually most successful in a room that provides a sense of intimacy and immediacy. With these performance types, the audience is close and tight to the stage so they can experience the immediacy of the performance. The overall physical volume and acoustics of a drama room are controlled so that the room supports the performance with little or no direct amplification. A dance theatre can use amplified or live acoustic music, and may require more variable control of the acoustical environment.
Conversely, live acoustical music performances are most successful in a room that has volume and some reverberance, allowing music to reflect, bounce, and fill the room. Audiences enjoy being close to this type of performance as well, but it is less important to be close to the stage than it is to have a high-quality aural experience from anywhere in the room.
For musical theatre, staged concerts, and opera, a combination of theatre and live music performance criteria are considered with the balance between immediacy and acoustic envelopment varying based on the art form.
An auditorium often supports more than one type of performance or might need to serve an entirely new set of criteria as our definitions of performance evolve. Indeed, as we look to contemporary practice, new definitions of performance like “immersive” and “experiential” theatre are being developed with greater frequency and for larger audiences. With this in mind a multi-use venue that possesses the flexibility to support a variety of performance types can be ideal. Solutions for a multi-use venue might include flexible seating arrangements and stage configurations, variable acoustics, or room divisions that alter the volume of the room for different performance types.
An auditorium lighting design needs to provide two fundamental components. The first part is the illumination needs of the public who work in and enjoy the space. The more difficult part is to convey the intended feeling and emotion that fits the program and the attitude of the space. A successful design elicits an emotional human connection to the space, and lighting plays a crucial role in accomplishing this goal.
Comparing a project’s budget and material resources with the project characteristics is also a great method of achieving the goal. Characteristics in this instance being such components as ceiling construction, timeframe, wiring infrastructure, maintenance schedules, personnel and budget. If a venue is to be successful, the design and build team must be realistic with regard to budgets, timescales, and materials. A low budget does not necessarily mean a poor design as a clever design can maximize resources, but as with most things, it is the detail work that makes the difference.
The lighting scheme of a space needs to incorporate fixtures which will provide suitable color rendering (most commonly measured in CRI: color rendering index). In areas which are meant to be used for reading (of playbills for example) an index number of 90 or greater should be considered.
Flexibility and control of the light beam should be a consideration so that the fixture layout can be tailored to the details of the architectural design. Fixtures which have on-site adjustable beam sizes and attachments help with glare and are a great solution when tailoring a design.
Delivery access, wide internal passage ways/ doorways and storage space are the most critical auditorium features that contribute to running a smooth installation and daily operation. Having outside delivery access for trucks speeds up the loading and unloading process, features like a truck height dock and adequate parking lot space for large delivery trucks are helpful. Wide internal passageways and doorways allow equipment to be moved quickly and efficiently in a space, especially with rolling carts. Lastly, having adequate storage space is helpful to organize and readily access unused equipment, contributing to increased speed when swapping between stage or seating configurations.
There’s two basic types of seating arrangements you can consider for your auditorium: “multiple-aisle” or “continental.” Generally speaking, a continental agreement will allow more seating in your space.
When it comes to seating widths, the most common chair widths are 20 inches, 21 inches, and 22 inches. That being said, available seat widths can range anywhere from 18 inches to 24 inches. You’ll also want to consider the row spacing. An average minimum dimension might be 30″, but if you space the rows at 36″ (for example) the audience’s comfort level will increase dramatically.
We would definitely advise you to take a look at various safety and building codes such as:
- Life Safety Code 101 – National Fire Prevention Agency
- BOCA (Building Officials and Code)
- Administrators – Basic Building Code
- Southern Standard Building Code
- Uniform Building Code
- Or governing State and Local building codes
- And more…
Finally, you’ll want to make sure you perform a sightline analysis to ensure that the audience members can see everything they want to (and are supposed to) see.