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How to Design Theater Seating: A Showcase of 21 Detailed Example Layouts

CEO Khai Intela
Audience sightlines, accessibility, and acoustics all make theater seating a highly precise art. As part of their set of online resources for architects and designers, the team at Theatre Solutions Inc (TSI) has put together...

Audience sightlines, accessibility, and acoustics all make theater seating a highly precise art. As part of their set of online resources for architects and designers, the team at Theatre Solutions Inc (TSI) has put together a catalog of 21 examples of theater seating layouts. Each layout is well-detailed, providing information on the number of seats, the floor seating area, and row spacing. In this article, we will explore these layouts, highlighting the pros and cons of each type, and providing examples of real-life projects that utilize them. So, whether you're an architect, designer, or simply a theater enthusiast, read on to discover the fascinating world of theater seating design.

1. End Stage

How to Design Theater Seating, Shown Through 21 Detailed Example Layouts Courtesy of Theatre Solutions Inc.

In the End Stage form, the entire audience faces the stage in the same direction. This layout is perfect for lectures, films, and slide-based presentations, as it ensures simple sightlines. It also fits well into conventional rectangular plans.

However, End Stages are not overly successful at creating a close relationship between performer and spectator. Theatres in this form also can't be too large due to acoustic limits.

Examples:

  • The Blyth Performing Arts Centre / Stevens Lawson Architects
  • Theatre Agora / UNStudio
  • Municipal Theater of Guarda / AVA Architects

2. Wide Fan

How to Design Theater Seating, Shown Through 21 Detailed Example Layouts Courtesy of Theatre Solutions Inc.

In this form, theater seats are placed within a 130-degree angle of inclusion. This brings the audience closer to the performer, establishing a more intimate experience.

The angling of this layout makes it better suited for speech-related performances. However, film presentations would be trickier in these spaces, as screens require proper positioning to compensate for sightlines that may be distorted due to the seat placement.

Examples:

  • National Grand Theater of China / Paul Andreu
  • Ulumbarra Theatre / Y2 Architecture
  • Limoges Concert Hall / Bernard Tschumi Architects

3. ¾ Arena

How to Design Theater Seating, Shown Through 21 Detailed Example Layouts Courtesy of Theatre Solutions Inc.

¾ arenas offer a 180-270-degree angle of inclusion, improving the hearing and visual contact between spectators and performers. The audience members can also see each other when facing ahead, enhancing the sense of inclusion.

However, conventional film presentations are almost impossible in this layout and would require alternative screen arrangements, such as multiple smaller screens positioned throughout the space.

Examples:

  • Han Show Theatre / Stufish Entertainment Architects
  • Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre / REX + OMA
  • Hardelot Theatre / Studio Andrew Todd

4. Other Layout Options

While the above three layouts are the most common forms of theater seating, there are other options as well. These include Arena seating, where the audience wraps around the stage in a full 360 degrees, typically found in extra-large theaters like the Royal Albert Hall. Another option is the Vineyard style, where seats are arranged in cascades of mini-blocks of varying levels, including the rear of the stage, as seen in the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie.

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie / Herzog & de Meuron Hamburg Elbphilharmonie / Herzog & de Meuron. Image © Iwan Baan

Each layout option brings its unique advantages and considerations, ensuring that theater designers have a wide range of choices to create memorable experiences for audiences.

For more detailed information on designing auditoriums, including seat spacing and the slope of the auditorium, check out TSI's comprehensive article here.

Originally published on November 16th, 2016; updated on November 4th, 2019.

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