Buyer’s Guide to Conference and Lecture Seating
Fixed auditorium seating is used in a variety of education and training establishments:
- Secondary schools and academies
- Higher education colleges and universities
- Armed forces and emergency services training centres
- Conference centres
- Corporate training rooms
If you’re responsible for sourcing seating for one of these venues, there’s a very wide range to choose from and it can be difficult to decide what type of auditorium seating will work best. Here we guide you through the different seat and desk combinations and show you some of the most popular seat styles and features.
Seat and desk combinations
With fixed auditorium seating, desks or writing tablets are usually integral to the chairs rather than standalone. The exception to this is the front row where separate desks will be required if this option is chosen. What’s best for your venue will depend on how the space is used (particularly if it’s a multi-purpose venue) and what equipment delegates will need to use.
Lecture and Conference Seating without desks
In some cases, a desk may not be required. This could be because delegates will just be listening to someone speak and won’t be required to take notes or use devices. The lack of desks also reduces the cost of any conference seating so if budget is an issue then going for a seat only option can make a new seating installation more viable.
The seat only installations below are in a university lecture theatre (below left) and in a football club training facility (below right). The seats used by the football club are actually stadium seats rather than conference seats with artificial grass being used in place of carpet. The seats also feature embroidery of the club’s logo on seat backs. This is a good example of how a training space can be themed and even though black is the predominant colour, the space doesn’t look or feel dull.
Below left, a traditional lecture room is refurbished with new auditorium seating upholstered in a mid-green with black under-seat boards to maintain a smart and traditional look.
Lecture Theatre Seating with rows of fixed desking
A popular choice in higher education establishments is lecture theatre seating with rows of fixed desking. Desktops are attached to seat backs and supported by the seat frames so they keep the floor area clear and help maximise space. Separate, standalone desks will only be necessary on the front row. Dependent on the configuration of the room, portable desks are often used on front rows as they can easily be moved to allow access for wheelchair users (see the ‘Provision for Wheelchairs Users’ section below for more information on portable lecture theatre desks).
The height of seat backs on this type of seat/desk combination will be determined by the height of the floor tiers. Rooms with bigger tiers/steps will have higher seat backs (as pictured above left) whilst rooms with a flat floor or low tiers will have lower seat backs (as pictured above centre). If you want seats with a higher back but only have low tiers, it is possible to extend the seat backs above the desktops (as can be seen on the first 2 rows of seats pictured above right).
As well as the straight rows pictured above, fixed desks can also be manufactured to fit seating positioned in curved rows (as shown below left). Desktops can incorporate power sockets and charging points if required (shown in both lecture theatres below).
This type of seating also works well in conference centres and more upmarket venues where you can create a more premium look by opting for high back seats with stitch detailing in seat backs as pictured below. You can match fabric to your corporate colours or choose something like the black faux leather pictured below right, which is co-ordinated with walnut effect curved desks to project a smart, professional image.
Conference Seating with individual writing tablets
For establishments where you need to maximise space, or where a desk isn’t always required, look at the option of conference seating with individual writing tablets. These usually fold away into the seat arm so don’t get in the way when they’re not needed. You will often find these described as ‘anti-panic’ writing tablets which means they will automatically fold away if the user stands suddenly, eg if they need to evacuate the room in an emergency.
Writing tablets are positioned within the right-hand chair arm as standard so if you choose this type of seating you need to specify how many left-handed tablets you will need and decide whereabouts in the room they will be located.
This type of seating works well in multi-purpose venues such as theatres which are also used for conferences or lectures.
Lecture Seating with folding writing desks
If a writing surface isn’t always needed but an individual folding tablet doesn’t provide enough space when it is, you can look at the option of individual folding desks. These are attached to seat backs just as fixed desks are, but each seat has its own desk with a mechanism allowing it to be folded away. These provide a much bigger writing surface and are ideal for use with laptops and other devices.
Provision for Wheelchair Users
Whatever type of establishment you’re sourcing seating for, it’s essential to ensure there is suitable disability access and space for wheelchair users. From removable banks of seating to portable writing desks, there are several options when it comes to making provision.
Whilst auditorium style seating is screwed to the floor and usually fitted in linked rows, it is possible to incorporate removable banks of 2 or 3 seats within the front row. An example of this is shown below left where you can see two removable banks of 3 seats on the front row. The seats screw into the floor through a connecting bar which runs along the top of the base plates. Screw heads feature twist handles (shown circled in the image below) for ease of removal. You simply turn the handles to unscrew and the whole bank of 3 seats can be removed to make space for wheelchairs.
For lecture theatres and conference rooms where desks are needed, portable writing desks on the front row are a popular solution. As pictured below right, these desks can match all the other fixed desks in the room, the only difference being they have feet with castors, rather than being fixed to the floor. This type of desk can either be moved out of the way completely or moved to allow access for wheelchair users and then pushed back into position for them to use during the lecture or conference.
Aesthetics of Auditorium Seating
Once you’ve decided what type of seat and desk combination would work best in your establishment, you need to consider the aesthetics of the seats. Fabric colour is key to setting a tone and making an impact but your choice of desk colour and seat boards (if required) can also dramatically change the look.
Below is an example of how the you can tailor the same seat in the same colour fabric to create different looks. Below left, beech effect seat boards and desks break up the blue upholstery and carpet to give a smart, sleek finish to the room.
Below centre, black painted seat boards are striking against the blue fabric and, combined with the natural brick walls, create a totally different vibe.
Below right, fully upholstered seats combine with a paler shade of carpet to create a calming sea of blue in this university lecture theatre.
If you already have a floor plan available, this is a good starting point when approaching suppliers so they can see the space you have and calculate how your chosen seats will fit. If you don’t have a layout already drawn up then potential suppliers can usually do this for you, you just need to provide them with the measurements of the room and the location of exits. They will be able to draw up a seating plan, taking into account fire regulations and best practice in line with British Standards.
When commissioning a new installation of auditorium seating it usually makes sense to get the manufacturer or supplier to do the installation as they will be familiar with the seating and will be able to fit it correctly and efficiently and also deal with any problems that may arise without causing delays. You can of course use your own installation team or a local joiner if there is someone reliable you feel confident can do the job for you.
If you need advice on planning an auditorium seating installation or would like a no-obligation quotation for auditorium or conference seating, please complete and submit the short form below.