Auditorium Seating Layout & Dimensions – The Complete Guide.
Welcome to “The Complete Guide to an Auditorium Seating Layout and Dimensions”! At least, that’s what we think of it as.
This will be an awesome guide for Architects, building owners, or anyone else needing to learn about (and run) a fixed seating project.
We’ll cover everything from auditorium seating spacing, to design, auditorium seating dimensions, standards, design guidelines, and more.
Before we get into it…
We’re experts at this, and we’d love to help you.
We’ve got decades of experience and have been blessed to work with some of the best architect firms in the country and have designed seating solutions for Carnegie Hall, the Kodak Theatre, and many, many more. So if you have questions about your auditorium seating layout or fixed seating project, we can help.
If a lifetime warranty, quality communication, on-time completion, high quality, and honesty are what you’re looking for… then check us out and view our auditorium seating, and learn what sets us apart and how we’ll add value to your project.
Quality Seating w/ Lifetime Warranty BROWSE CHAIRS
Jump to a section:
- General Seating Arrangement
- Theater Forms (How You’ll Lay The Space Out)
- Seat Widths
- Row Spacing
- Floor Design
- Building Code & Safety Guidelines
- Seating Layout Examples
- Infographic (Visual Summary You Can Add To Your Site)
If you’re not much of a reader or want a visual resource you can share on your own site, jump to the infographic version we made of this article. Or, just keep reading to dive in to The Complete Guide To An Auditorium Seating Layout…
General Seating Arrangement: 2 Basic Types
Seating arrangements in an auditorium seating layout (or assembly space) will either be identified as “multiple-aisle” or “continental.”
These terms are commonly found in design standards manuals, building codes, and similar architectural reference documents. Each size is unique, with specific guidelines governing row size, row spacing, and exit ways.
Basically, a multiple-aisle arrangement will have a maximum of 14-16 chairs per row with access to an aisle-way at both ends.
If an aisle can be reached from one end of a row only, the seat count may then be limited to 7 or 8.
It should be noted that the maximum quantities will always be established by the governing building code.
In a continental arrangement, all seats are located in a central section. Here the maximum quantity of chairs per row can greatly exceed the limits established in a multiple-aisle arrangement.
In order to compensate for the greater length of rows allowed, building codes will require wider row spacing, wider aisles, and strategically located exit doors.
Although it would seem like more space is called for, a continental seating plan is often not any less efficient than a multiple-aisle arrangement. In fact, if it’s carefully planned, a continental arrangement can frequently accommodate more seating within the same space.
For early planning, an average of 7.5 sq ft. per person may be used.
This will include both the seating area and space necessary for aisle-ways.
Theater Forms: What Form Will Your Area Take?
While you’re evaluating the potential organization of an auditorium seating layout, you’ve got to put some thought into what “form” you’d want that space to take.
“Form” is the result of planned relationships between spectators and performers dictated by the anticipated function or use.
A carefully planned or programmed assembly space may demand a particular form to support the function. This will often follow one of several basic theater forms…
The “End Stage”
Pros: Well suited to lecture, film or slide presentations.
Cons: Not very conducive to close relationship between performer and spectator.
Although a “proscenium” or “picture-frame” stage is very common and familiar to theater goers, a variation of it… the “end stage” … satisfies the needs of many other general assembly spaces.
This form is well suited to lecture, film, or slide presentations. In addition, it may lend itself comfortably to rectangular areas which will fit many conventional new or renovated buildings.
However, this form may not be conducive to a close relationship between performer and spectator. In some large-space auditorium seating layouts many seats are beyond a point where un-reinforced speech would be intelligible.
If this type of direct contact is essential, perhaps a different form, as described below, may be more appropriate.
Wide Fan Arrangement
Pros: Brings distant spectators closer to the performer.
Cons: Limits space usage to primarily speech related activities.
A wide fan arrangement with maximum limits of 130 degrees from a central focus or focal point will bring the distant spectators closer to the performer, thereby promoting a more intimate relationship.
At this angle of inclusion, film or slide presentation is still possible, however, the performing area should be deep and the screen placed as far to the rear as is practical to minimize distortion of the projected images.
A auditorium seating layout or seating area which exceeds 130 degrees begins to limit the use of an assembly space primarily to speech related activities.
However, this doesn’t discount all film projection, since the actual position of the screen will determine the extent of image distortion. This fact, coupled with an understanding of the physical discomfort which develops when one’s head is turned to the side for an extended period, may permit only brief film presentations.
The 3/4 Arena
Pros: Improves the hearing and visual contact between spectator and performer.
Cons: Film presentation is almost out of the question.
The 3/4 arena is a third form of assembly space, which traces it’s origins to the ancient Greek open-air amphitheater.
This design approach is characterized by a 180 degree to 270 degree angle of inclusion and can improve aural and visual contact between spectators and performers.
Conventional film presentation, in this format, is almost totally out of the question, but television monitors or projection screens located throughout the assembly space may work OK.
Pros: Offers 360 degree visuals, so you can bring more spectators closer to the performers.
Cons: This limits the arena physically, it allows very little (or no) expansion.
The last form we’ll take a look at here is the arena stage. This offers seating in a full 360 degree containment.
Obviously, this auditorium seating layout brings even more spectators closer to the performer, but at the same time it creates certain restrictions. At any time during a presentation, a performer will be facing only a portion of the audience. Additionally, the performing arena is physically limited to the allocated space- allowing little to no expansion.
Need professional help with your project? We’re here for you! CONTACT US
Auditorium Seating Dimensions – Seat Widths
Seating comfort is initially established by individual chair widths.
Available sizes range from 18″ to 24″, however, all may not be produced by a single manufacturer.
The most commonly used chair widths are 20″, 21″, and 22″.
It should be noted that these dimensions are nominal, being measured from center to center of the support legs. If seating comfort is a high priority, thought must be given to a particular width and the space taken up by chair arms to determine an actual size.
Usually, smaller sizes of 18″ and 19″ have limited application due to the minimum clear width provided. Typically, all manufacturers size their chairs along an imaginary line which may be referred to as a “datum line,” “char radius line” or something similar.
For accurate planning in an assembly area, this line must be identified so as not to over or underestimate the potential of a row of chairs.
Another consideration in v is row spacing.
Row spacing, or “back to back” spacing of seats is also very important in developing a comfortable assembly area in your auditorium seating layout.
A minimum dimension occasionally used is 2′-6″ (30″).
This spacing provides marginal clearance between a seated person’s knees and the back of the chair in the next forward row. At the same time, it will require that a seated person stand to permit another person to get by them.
As you increase the row spacing to 36″, seating comfort is dramatically improved and passage along a row of seated persons is accomplished with less disruption.
When it comes to your auditorium seating dimensions, seating comfort will also be affected by the design of the assembly space floor.
Flat or less steeply sloped floors will usually allow a person to extend their knees and legs even under minimum row spacing conditions. Here, an individual can take advantage of the open area under a seat and the free space created by the pitched back of a chair.
As the floor slope is increased, this “free space” diminishes. The extreme condition exists where a large elevation change between rows is combined with a minimum row spacing.
An example would be a 12″ high riser and a 32″ wide row spacing. At this point, it becomes necessary to consider increasing the back to back dimension to provide more leg room.
The free space under a chair is also lost when a row of seats is located directly behind a low wall. In this case, a recommended minimum clearance would be 11″ measured from seat edge in the lowered position to face of wall.
The back to back dimension of a row of seats abutting a rear wall should also be carefully studied. Normally, the pitched back of a chair will overlap a riser face, automatically reducing the width of that row unless succeeding rows are similarly positioned.
Where a rear wall exists, the recommended procedure is to increase the dimension of the last row sufficiently to accommodate any overlap plus a minimal space between the wall and top edge of the chair back.
We Made a Visual Summary of This Article in an Infographic! CHECK IT OUT
Building Code & Safety Guidelines
Before presenting an overview of building code guidelines as they apply to fixed seating and your auditorium seating layout, it should be emphasized that this article is not intended to interpret, judge, or decide code compliance in a particular seating arrangement.
We advise you to refer to current editions of:
- 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
Generally, among the individual codes, regulations covering fixed seating tend to be somewhat similar in nature.
Occasionally, that which is stated follows accepted comfort or common sense guidelines.
For example, seat width requirements may not be a particularly area, since most codes require a 19″ or 20″ minimum. Also, one code may accept a 32″ row spacing, while another will permit 30″.. In these cases, the obvious choice would be the greater dimension, if only for the sake of comfort.
Most building codes differentiate between multiple-aisle and continental seating arrangements. So…
be advised to carefully note the differences that exist with regard to “plumb-line clearances” which may be measured with the seat up or down, and the maximum quantity of chairs that may be permitted as a function of a particular dimension (row spacing).
Some codes will also identify clearances as they are affected by such items as tablet arms, where their attachment may impede emergency areas.
Aisle-ways & Code
Aisle-ways must be carefully studied in relation to the seating arrangement desired. Minimum aisle widths may be greater for a continental seating plan compared to a multiple-aisle arrangement.
In all cases, the dimension increases proportionately to the distance traveled toward an exit door.
The aisle width in your auditorium seating layout must be measured perpendicular to side walls or the direction of travel and not necessarily parallel to the angle of curve of a row of seats.
Exit Doors & More
Building codes also deal with such issues as the size and location of exit doors, emergency aisle lighting, railings, floor slope at aisles and riser heights. In many areas the flammability of the room finishes, including the chair construction, is also covered.
Besides regulations spelled out in building codes, there exist other general safety guidelines to be considered.
Other Safety Considerations
A serious safety hazard frequently appears when voids are created between end of row chairs and aisle steps. This results when the chair leg and aisle steps are not parallel. Aisle steps should always be extended to fall as close to the end chair as possible.
A similar problem may develop where the maximum quantity of chairs cannot fill the available space. This condition will create gaps between end chairs at aisle steps or side walls as well as irregular aisle alignment. In some cases, using wider chairs may help reduce the gap, but often the problem can be avoided by careful preliminary problem.
One last detail should be mentioned…. which occurs solely in assembly areas where risers or steps are used:
The practice of allowing a chair back to overlap the edge of a riser is recommended in order to avoid the likelihood of a person accidentally stepping over the riser’s edge when entering or existing a row.
Ideally, the char back serves as a protective railing. The condition might be overlooked during early planning stages of your auditorium seating layout, resulting in an unacceptable row spacing where chairs abut a rear wall.
Need professional help with your project? We’re here for you! CONTACT US
Visibility: What (And How Much) Can Audience Members See?
Visibility in an assembly space is a function of seat location.
One of the most crucial parts of your auditorium seating layout is visibility.
As we said earlier… building codes, comfort guidelines, floor design, and the overall form of an assembly space all play a part in seating arrangements. This information, combined with a basic understanding of sight-line analysis and related planning guidelines, can result in achieving an acceptable (if not optimum) level of viewing for spectators.
Perhaps film projection requires the most critical sightline analysis, since poor seat location will result in distorted images. For this activity, the seating parameters are established by the screen or image size.
An angle of 30 degrees up to 45 degrees measured perpendicular to the far and near edges of the screen can establish a side to side seating limit, while the screen or image height may determine the maximum distance.
The minimum dimension or closest recommended seat will also be set by the screen height. *Note that these images are approximate and apply principally to flat screen projection.
Whether or not film projection is part of the design program for your auditorium seating layout or assembly space, analysis of the sight-lines (both horizontal AND vertical) is highly recommended.
The quality of sightlines in a horizontal plane may be a function of staggered seating.
Staggering permits an individual’s view to pass between the heads of spectators in a preceding row.
This staggered effect can be accomplished in several ways.
- The first (and simplest) approach would be to offset every other row by several inches, assuming straight rows.
- A second option would be to alternate odd and even quantities of chairs in successive rows.
However, if the resulting irregular aisle alignment from either solution is unacceptable, similar results can be achieved through other methods.
For example, by varying seat widths in successive rows, aesthetic integrity of the aisles can be maintained. With this arrangement, some spectators will enjoy the optimum benefit from seat staggering, while others will get only minimal improvement.
When a fixed quantity of chairs of uniform width are arranged along an arc, staggering can be achieved at the center of the seating area, but will diminish as the distance to the center is increased.
Again, this will only afford some spectators an improved horizontal sightline. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to achieve a 100% level of success solely with this form of analysis.
Optimum sightline requires both horizontal and vertical sightlines.
Sightline Analysis – Approach #1
When preparing a vertical sightline analysis for you auditorium seating layout, the minimum clearance to raise a spectator’s view line over the head of a person directly in front of him would be 4.5″ to 5″.
However, this may still not guarantee a totally uninterrupted line of sight. For example, if all seats had a constant rise per row of 5″, all spectators still may not see the same point or be able to view the entire area desired.
Generally, seats farthest away may lose the lower portion of any presentation.
Perhaps for a simple lecture, this is not of major importance since the viewers need only see the upper portion of a speaker. However, thought must be given to such items as a chalkboard or projection screen so that the lower edge is within view of the most distant spectator.
Obviously, this can be done by simply raising the display wall or screen, or by elevating the entire presentation area in accordance with the results of the sightline study.
The pitch of a sloped floor need not be designed with a constant rise. Improved sightlines can also be achieved by designing a floor where the rise per row is increasing. This method, referred to as “iscidomal slope” can make more efficient use of the total available rise from front to rear of a space.
The sightlines can often be further improved if a raised platform is included.
Sightline Analysis – Approach #2
A second approach to vertical sightline analysis is every-other-row line of sight. In contrast to that which was already discussed, this form of analysis assumes that heads of spectators in preceding rows will not obscure vision as a result of staggering seating.
However, this assumption should be verified in the form of a horizontal sightline analysis.
By staggering seats it is possible to maximize a spectator’s view line between the heads of individuals seated in a preceding row.
Not to be overlooked of course is the natural tendency for individuals to reposition themselves in their seats in order to improve sightlines. Combined with the addition of a platform or varying floor scope, the overall rise in this assembly space can be kept to a minimum.
This is a precise business…
The planning of an assembly space or auditorium seating layout is much more precise than most other building occupancy types.
Because of the extend of “built-ins” (ie. steps, slopes, platforms, etc.) problems are more difficult to correct if the original plan is found to be faulty. Therefore, the architect or designer should study all aspects of the space requirements or program. They should establish a priority, and filter out those items that may tend to make the space too demanding or too flexible.
Seating Layout Examples
This last section is devoted to an analysis of several actual auditorium seating projects and provides real auditorium seating layout examples.
Before we get into it, here’s an…
Explanation of terms:
- Basic Theater Form – that form as explained earlier in this article.
- Quantity of Seats – the actual quantity of fixed seats installed.
- Seating Area – includes all space directly occupied by the fixed seats, as well as the adjacent aisle-ways.
- Space Per Seat – seating area divided by quantity of seats.
- Row Spacing – plumb-line dimension between rows measured from common reference point, i.e., chair back.
- Most Distant Seat – seat identified as being farthest from a projection screen or stage.
- Stage Elevation – height of stage above floor line at first row of seats.
- Floor Design – floor may be flat, sloped, or designed with risers or improved visibility.
Seating Layout Examples:
Below are 3 examples of seating layouts and their specs.
Want more layouts?
We’ll email you 21 layout examples!
- Basic Theater Form – End Stage.
- Quantity of Seats – 55.
- Seating Area – 450 Sq. Ft.
- Space Per Seat – 8.23 Sq. Ft.
- Row Spacing – 2′ 9″
- Most Distant Seat – 22′-0″
- Stage Elevation – None
- Floor Design – Flat / One Riser 8″
- Basic Theater Form – 3/4 Arena.
- Quantity of Seats – 56.
- Seating Area – 622 Sq. Ft.
- Space Per Seat – 11.1 Sq. Ft.
- Row Spacing – 3‘ 3″
- Most Distant Seat – 32′-0″
- Stage Elevation – None
- Floor Design – Risers 4“
- Basic Theater Form – End Stage.
- Quantity of Seats – 80.
- Seating Area – 700 Sq. Ft.
- Space Per Seat – 8.75 Sq. Ft.
- Row Spacing – 3‘ 6″
- Most Distant Seat – 25′-0″
- Stage Elevation – 3′-6″
- Floor Design – Risers 6″
Here’s a visual summary of the information in this article, that you can add to your site.
Use this Image On Your Site!
Just copy and paste the snippet below in your site’s text tab or text editor, and please include attribution. Need help? Watch this 30 second video to learn how.
Made by Theatre Solutions Inc.