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Theater Seating Considerations
By: Julie Wanstedt

Different styles of worship call for different styles of seating. Many congregations find a need for seating other than traditional pews and chairs for their services and special events. Theater and auditorium seating, designed specifically for the worship environment, offers:

* A variety of ways to customize a worship environment
* Performance and ergonomic benefits to meet the desired comfort level of all users
* Accessories and options to meet the needs of individuals and full congregations
* Layout options, compliant with all code requirements

Many manufacturers make seating designs for all areas of a space, providing the ability to combine styles of worship seating. Whether pews are required in the balcony, auditorium seating on the main floor, or flexible seating in the stage floor, communities of every faith can achieve their visions for worshipful interiors.

Designing and creating a customized interior worship environment with theater/ auditorium seating necessitates taking into account the following considerations:

* Seat design (components, ergonomics, accessories, and aesthetics)
* Seating envelope and seating efficiency
* Layout options, installation, and maintenance
* Stewardship (community outreach, maximizing use of the facility)
* The specific worship needs of individuals and full congregations

Seating in a worship environment should be:

* Comfortable to use during short or long periods of sitting time
* Aesthetically pleasing, adding to the worship environment, not detracting from it
* Sleek, providing a clean uncluttered look
* Accessible to all users
* Durable
* Silent when lowered or raised
* Easy to modify, if required, and maintain
* Compliant to all codes, as required

Any unwanted noise in a worship environment can detract from the significance of the service. A seat can become noisy if springs are used to aid in the raising of the seat. Over time, the springs begin to make a characteristic thumping sound, often heard in movie theaters. Some manufacturers use rubber stoppers to help dampen this sound, but due to temperature and moisture variations, they can become brittle, and finally crack. The spring itself and the rubber stoppers can eventually create noise, and without continual maintenance, the metal internal components will contact each other, creating more noise.

A second reason a seat can become noisy is if serpentine springs are used to help cushion the seat in the seat pan. Over time, with repeated use, these springs can squeak, again, much like old movie theater seats.

Manufacturers that design theater/auditorium seating specifically for worship environments recognize these potential noise issues and have designed seats made of dense cold molded foam that sits in the seat pan. This makes for a comfortable seat with no chance of noise, since there are no moving parts. An innovative pivot, gravity lift mechanism is used to raise the seat.

The combination of a specifically designed internal reinforced plastic seat pan with contoured cold molded foam allows for maximum comfort for increased sit times without the potential noise, maintenance, or bulky look of spring seats. The seat pan is a reinforced and tested plastic designed for strength and to fully support the seat foam, without the use of any mechanical component.

A gravity lift seat is one that is specifically designed to allow an internal counterbalance weight to allow the seat to return to its full and upright position every time, without the use of any mechanical components. This allows for even seat rows every time. The use of this type of seat also allows for a near silent operation over the life of the seat with no maintenance. It is important to keep in mind that not all gravity lift seats are made the same. A true gravity lift system provides quiet operation, has no moving/mechanical components, and requires no maintenance.

The seating envelope is the distance between the back of the chair and the front of the seat while in the upright position. One of the reasons this is so important is that the tighter the seating envelope, the more seats you can fit into a given space. This will allow the building to accommodate more rows of seats in the same square footage while still meeting the egress codes. The more seats, the more attendees. The more attendees, the greater the worship community, the better the stewardship.

Another reason a tighter seating envelope is so important is that it helps facilitate both getting people in and out of the space in a comfortable manor. With a traditional pew, the egress is 12 inches. With an auditorium seat and the same back-to-back spacing, you can expect 17.25 inches of egress room. In addition to these reasons, maintenance will also become easier with the extra room for cleaning or moving equipment in and out.

Julie Wanstedt is product manager for Sauder Worship Seating - www.sauderworship.com

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