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All Change at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

All Change at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts
All Change at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

UK – Audience Systems’ innovative solution for the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts allows the venue to quickly transform its floor from flat to tiered, with minimal strain to the crew.

The Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of Sussex was designed by renowned architect Basil Spence in the early 1960s. A Grade II listed building, its experimental design is based on a series of circles. Even the main auditorium is circular, creating some very interesting challenges in terms of both acoustics and layout. It’s also a busy multi-purpose space hosting up to eight different events in a single week, including lectures, art installations, rehearsals and plays.

The auditorium can be configured in a number of different ways. It can be completely flat, from the back of the room right across to the back of the stage. It can take the shape of a traditional auditorium, with either a full rake of seating, or a half rake of seating plus standing room. While the half rake layout is achieved in a relatively straightforward way by opening out a retractable seating system, creating the full rake of seating requires more tiers to be effectively sunk into the floor. Previously, this was achieved by lowering a series of 'drill drive' stage units, weighing up to 40kg per module. Heavy and difficult to operate, it would take six people around four hours to change the floor from flat to stepped. The stages were also liable to slope and buckle, and the uneven surface had inherent trip hazards.

Audience Systems transformed the floor space with Airstage modules, manufactured by its staging partner Trenomat of Germany. These labour-saving hydraulic platforms are unlocked and smoothly lowered from the top using simple removable handles. They are fixed to the floor and can be adjusted to any height, making all sorts of additional configurations possible. The modules were custom built to perfectly fit the unique shape of the auditorium, and customised and trimmed to the Attenborough Centre’s exact requirements.

The installation was carried out during a two-week dark period. “The installation crew were amazing,” says theatre manager Greg Mickelborough. “It was remarkably straightforward. They were happy to make minor adjustments on site and completed this whole custom installation in just shy of two weeks.”

“The difference from the old system is huge. Physically it is much easier. A crew of three can now transform the space in less than half the time it used to take a crew of six, and it will only get quicker.”

14th April 2020

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