|Mercersburg Academy Auditorium, Mercersburg, PA|
The conventional/stereotypical approach to school auditorium design is creating a small scale theatre complete with a stage house, rigging, proscenium stage and defined audience seating area. By appearance, all seems great. Students have a performance space; parents have a place to sit and bask in the glory of their children’s brilliance and talent. Or so is this intent. Connecting student performers and audience is not really acknowledged and occurs as a consequence of design vs. a driver. Parental expectations to see and hear their child perform are typically jaded by the inability to get close and personal provided by conventional seating configurations.
The actual space design is part of the problem. Alternative approaches are deviating from the stereotypical footprint and paying closer attention to functionality of the space and the desired experience for end-users.
Functionality: In today’s world, school auditoriums host a wide range of events – not only for student musicians, singers and actors – but serve as settings for lectures, student assemblies, community concerts, public meetings, visiting artists (performers)… the list goes on. Adapting the stereotypical proscenium auditorium to accommodate multi-purpose use requires elements to support music – such as adding a concert shell to help project sound out of the stage area to listener ears. Design also needs to integrate audio/visual technology to heighten multi-functionality.
End-user experience: 21st Century learning environments require stronger orientation towards engagement and exchange. Intimacy is critical. In the context of a performance space, students are much more likely to succeed in an environment where they feel strong connections between each other and the audience. The stereotypical auditorium approach presents a distinct separation between performers and audience and detracts from intimacy. Students have to work harder to bridge that gap.
An approach oriented more towards a “performance box” concept offers a pragmatic alternative to the stereotype. It typically starts with a large room with ample volume / ceiling height which is great for music. A single room/space places performers and audience in a shared acoustic space. This accommodates a strong sense of community, intimacy and supports both visual and acoustic connections. Elements for visual masking for theatrical performances can be added as movable elements and free project budgets from fixed costly constructions. When budget is a serious factor, the performance box option offers tremendous advantages while also meets functionality and end-user experience goals.
- Chris Brooks & David W. Kahn