We have recently completed a major reseating project for the Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki. The original seats were installed in 1993 when the opera building was completed. After several meetings and inspection of the auditorium, auditorium designer, Neil Morton, recommended a full reseating rather than refurbishment for a number of reasons.
The original seats were designed by an eminent Finnish industrial designer and were manufactured in Finland to his design and specification. The ergonomics of the seat were designed for a relaxed seating position with a seat height lower than normal for theatre seats. This resulted in the sightlines from the seats at the front of each of the three tiers being less than ideal. Furthermore, after more than two decades service, despite interim refurbishments, many of the seats were beginning to show signs of wear and tear; the foam on many of seat pans had collapsed and several of the components were loose including the frames so that the seats were no longer rigid.
Theatreplan was thus appointed to recommend minor changes to the boxes and side levels to improve sightlines from the tiers as well as preparing documentation for the seating tender. “It was quite a delicate and labour-intensive project as there were many criteria to be met and our time-scale was severely restricted,” recalled Neil. The seat specifications were for a seat that was similar in character and materials palette to the existing seats, but where the ergonomics were adjusted to make the seat more upright the higher it was located in the auditorium in order to improve sightlines and gain space.
The design also had to take into account the sloping tiers and the seats being rotated towards the stage as they extended to the sides of the auditorium. Consequently, a custom seat design was developed for the front row side seats of the second and third tiers. Finally, the front row of the stalls seating needed to be easily removable for storage in a very restricted space via the 1-row-wide lift that adjusts the size of the large orchestra pit formats. These seats are constructed in groups of five or six seats connected by a steel plate with integral castors which enables them to be easily rolled forward into the lift for storage.
Given the issues the Opera has had to contend with in the past, they preferred to work with a proven seat design from an established theatre seating manufacturer rather than developing a brand new design from scratch. Renowned furniture manufacturer, Poltrona Frau was finally appointed to refine the design proposals for the seating.
“We had very tight deadlines all round,” admitted Neil. “Poltrona Frau had just six months in order to develop the prototypes and carry out the necessary acoustic and durability tests before manufacturing the seats in time for installation during the scheduled closure. The closure period itself was just two months, during which time all the seating had to be installed together with the refurbishment of the floors and some other minor changes to improve the acoustics. The logistics of achieving so much in such a short period of time were complex to say the least, but close communication with all parties concerned and careful phasing of deliveries to site ensured that the project was delivered on time. The changes that were made combined with careful attention to the ergonomics and positioning of the new seats have made significant improvements to audience comfort and sightlines.”