AMERICAN THEATRE | If You Build It, Will They Come?

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Theater architects are looking forward to the design of the post-pandemic world.

Grabbing the phone with e-tickets and travel affidavits, we joined the outdoor team of theater audiences wearing masks. We are no longer at a loss, don't go in the door. We waited impatiently six feet away from the former customer until we approached the door of the motion sensor. We put the transparent plastic wallet on the safety table, walked through the metal detector, smiled at the thermal imager, and stepped on the hand sanitizer.

Only then did we take out the tickets, put on the gloves, scanned them, and walked into the lobby. We calculate the way to reach the selected seat, cushioning with vacancies from all sides to separate the next group. When we sat in our seats, the sterile doctor's office paper was crumpled, but it was still full of preservatives. Finally, we settled down and watched Romeo and Juliet fall in love from the other end of the stage.

After the pandemic, is this what we expect?

Joshua Dachs, head of Fisher Dachs Associates, a theater planning and design company in New York, said: "It makes everyone uneasy." "No one knows how long it will last or what it will become afterwards."

There is no doubt that the design and construction of the Performing Arts Center will be affected by the COVID-19 crisis, just like other historical threats to theater audiences. Around the turn of the 20th century, the theater fire caused asbestos fire curtains to cover the stage and metal fire escapes on the outer wall of Broadway. of

It gave birth to new building ventilation codes and standards. The 9/11 terrorist attacks temporarily prevented customers from buying tickets in advance, and the threat of active shooting also led to theaters

Unable to deal with violence on stage.

The theater field will also withstand the current threats, but in the fight to alleviate the new fears of customers, the theater field may experience structural and operational changes.

A theater that was once revered for intricate architectural details and dense velvet decoration, or

, They will soon be judged on their surface disinfection and easy-to-clean surfaces. Gone are the days of first staying on the gilded ceiling. As returning customers seek guarantees to ensure the cleanliness of public places, biosecurity will soon become the most admired exhibition.

Architect Scott Wilson predicts that hand sanitizer and sinks will be added everywhere. The founder and director of Wilson Butler Architects, a company specializing in arts and entertainment architecture, compares the changes in the theater entrance experience to the circulation routes on a cruise ship.

Wilson said: "Cruise ships are currently offspring of the coronavirus, but in reality, they are not more vulnerable than stadiums, economic centers or theaters," he described the handwashing vestibule that separates the rooms on the ship. He hopes to incorporate measures to prevent the spread of diseases into the way customers enter performance venues, which requires larger hall space or outdoor sanitary conditions. He said: "There will be a procedural thing that must be adapted by the architecture."

The proposed addition of handwashing stations and health check areas means that the theater hall will have to be increased. In fact, the entire theater building will have to grow. If social distancing becomes a common phenomenon, theaters will need more space to line up in the lobby, around the box office, bars and toilets. Not to mention seats in the auditorium. However, if a theater only sells other seats, leaving a space between each customer, they will lose more than just the audience and ticket revenue. They will also lose the collective energy of the audience's full response.

In short, they will lose the community.

"When the performance begins, the silence of the audience or the sound of laughter or gasping around the audience when a dramatic event occurs on stage is really exciting for being in a performance space," Byron Harrison of Partner and Acoustics Principles Said to be a member of Charcoalblue, an international theater, acoustics and digital consulting service company. Harrison said he was worried that separating seats would endanger the natural response.

"If we have to stay away from socializing in the theater, just too far away from other smiling people, it would be too subtle and took a quick breath. If we really want these spaces, then we should avoid this kind of thing. It’s exciting to live," Harrison said.

On the stage, the audience's reaction or lack of reaction is perceptible. In a theater far from society, performers not only have to tell stories, but they do not need to interact closely with each other. They will also pay attention to the number of empty seats.

Mobile furniture and architectural innovation provide design flexibility.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, designed by Charcoalblue and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, can accommodate 150 to 850 spectators, including movable seats and 9 flexible seat towers. Performers after the pandemic may see only sold seats, and despite the large number of spectators, they have created a full-view house.

However, since the existing theaters are unlikely to take half of the seats and store them between the wigs of the previous season, we may seek other disease prevention solutions besides social evacuation, especially for withdrawal Stage performers and behind-the-scenes employees step onto the stage and squeeze into the shared dressing room, compact practice space and flooded clothing store, as well as orchestra members sitting in the spitting and shared air.

Another solution might be non-contact fixtures and easy-to-clean surfaces. Although it is relatively easy to use motion sensor substitutes to replace sink handles, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and even door handles, some architectural features must be touched. To prevent diseases from spreading through shared surfaces, designers can replace functions such as stair handrails and seat armrests with materials that can be easily wiped with more demanding cleaning solutions. As health professionals and material manufacturers discover specific materials that do not contain bacteria, they can use these materials to design new buildings and retrofit existing buildings.

Dachs said: "Metals like copper have antibacterial properties." "You use this material or other antibacterial materials more frequently on things that people have to touch, and these things can also be washed a lot."

Most theaters are equipped with porous sound-absorbing materials to help create the acoustic environment of the space. Theater managers and acousticians may have to consider replacing fabrics, fiber devices and cork that absorb sound but also provide space for bacteria to grow. On the other hand, replacement of sound-absorbing materials is not as priority as other materials, because it has not been proven that they can save living pathogens than other materials, and customers do not touch them often.

Really threaten the sound balance of the performance space? The customer himself.

"If our seating density in the performance space changes a lot (if public health experts or the public themselves require more space between rows and more space between individual seats), then this will change the surface area and the suction The relationship between acoustic functions. Harrison said. These are the equations we use to predict how the equations will respond in the room, including reverberation. If we increase the audience area by separating people, it will greatly change the room. "

Another way to create a healthier environment is to increase the amount of fresh air in the performance space. Enhanced ventilation systems with advanced filtration systems, such as those in ultra-energy-efficient office buildings, can bring more clean air. Research on building ventilation has shown that in this case, recirculating air and incorrect filtration can cause medical problems for building occupants.

. In addition, reducing recirculation air actually provides a more sustainable opportunity for theaters.

The use of passive heating and ventilation systems can not only provide more fresh air to the occupants, but also reduce energy use, save operating costs, and reduce the carbon emissions of buildings. Buildings like this


In Cooperstown, New York, the theater air is filled with fresh air, creating an indoor/outdoor experience. Bringing the outside into the performance space, or moving the performance outside, can easily alleviate concerns about recirculating air and provide space for social events. This may encourage performance venues to work under the constraints of their climate, may change the timing of the seasons or reduce the controllable environment for performers, and protect customers from the rain.

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All these accommodations (sterilization, flexible spaces, material changes and ventilation updates) will require money. Expand the scale of social venues

The easiest way to reduce the cost of construction projects is to save space and reduce the number of buildings. Theaters cannot magically generate revenue, especially if current performances are cancelled. If the venue reopens in accordance with the social distancing rules, the theater must bear the financial burden of only half of the seats sold, and if the stage and backstage cannot accommodate enough audiences, the theater must reduce the number of performers. This will place performance venues that have been shaken by the current economic uncertainty in fragile financial conditions.

Wilson said: "When the stock market is at historical highs, philanthropy tends to flow in a large amount." "When the stock market affects very generous art charity families or foundations, they will stop and hesitate whenever they write a check. So. It remains to be seen."

However, the current economic crisis may bring a glimmer of hope for venues seeking new construction projects. Economic changes may stabilize the skyrocketing construction costs of the past five years, making owners' funds go further than before the pandemic. However, it is difficult to predict changes in construction costs, and the buildings currently being constructed are also difficult to predict.

Some projects, such as Wilson Butler (Wilson Butler)

Taken in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; some have been postponed; some may never happen. Pat Arrington, vice president of JE Dunn Construction Group, is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. He is solving his project in the best way that is safe for customers and construction personnel.

"Project by project, owner by owner, city by city, we must take a step back and recheck our contracts," Arlington said. As an essential service, the building will continue to add preventive measures, but as the buildings are completed, they are still not open according to local health recommendations. "We have hired a third-party (construction) inspector, but the inspector does not currently issue an occupation certificate."

Despite the uncertainty in the construction market, many people hope that after the coronavirus pandemic, the theater industry will return to normal, or a new normal. As with other historical threats, the field will make great strides towards COVID-19. The publicly visible and obvious precautions will accelerate the comfortable return of customers to the theater. Perhaps artists and performers will lead the new normal of theater design and construction.

Dachs said: "We may change art because of this crisis, leading to the emergence of new architectural types." "This may not be the intentional choice of the producer, but the evolution of the artist, which has always been the driving force for the reform of theater design."


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