Jumpseat Auditorium Seating
Jumpseat Auditorium Seating
The Jumpseat is a super minimal seating system for auditoriums that fits in a fraction of the footprint of typical stadium or theater seating, and uses a unique hinge mechanism to minimize material use.
Sohrab Vossoughi, Mehdi Mojtabavi, Dave Knaub and Pierre Harper.
The slim-line profile of this auditorium chair is elegantly resolved and the details have been simplified so that no tooling is required in production. This allows for the design to be produced locally. The design is true to its materials and suited a modern auditorium. It is also easy to dissemble, repair and clean. The major criticism was about sound absorption which is a critical component in auditorium seating. Also, as the chair was a site-specific design and therefore essentially bespoke, we questioned whether it would ever see the light of day in other auditoriums.
Jumpseat Auditorium Seating
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The problem was auditorium seating: it’s bulky, outdated, and thoroughly predictable. We have an auditorium space in our headquarters that seats around 150. It has a beautifully minimal interior that would make traditional stadium seating look out of place, so for its first months of use, audience members sat directly on the concrete risers.
After several months of relative discomfort, we began investigating standard stadium and theater seating, with little success. Existing options clash visually with the clean white walls, unfinished wood and bare concrete of the building interior, and the narrow risers make it difficult for people to pass those already seated. We realized that the environment called for a new kind of seat -- something that doesn’t just serve the space, but significantly breaks with traditional standards of event seating.
As industrial designers, this excited us tremendously. It’s not often you get to design something for your own use that also has the potential to redefine a long-established furniture form, for the better.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
As the primary users of the seating system, we had the luxury of writing the brief ourselves, so it encapsulated our point of view pretty thoroughly. Compared with a typical furniture design project, we were able to focus far more on reducing weight, thickness and visual prominence than we might have otherwise, since the basics of seat height, angle, load, etc. were already well understood.
Aesthetically, our point of view was clean and stripped down. We’re great admirers of simple, straightforward design that makes its function clear, and leaned heavily in this direction from the beginning. Any cleverness in the design would come from function, not ornament.
We also have a tremendous respect for the materials and processes of manufacturing. We wanted these seats to convey at least a little of the wonder we feel about such simple miracles as the incredible strength of a sheet of paper-thin steel, or the functional intricacy of an expertly sawed piece of finish grade plywood.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
There were two primary groups who had to be satisfied with this design: the people who attend events in our auditorium -- employees, guests, attendees of local community events -- and us, as designers. So it had to be functional, comfortable and durable, but it also had to satisfy our own design and aesthetic sensibilities. The auditorium space is very sparse and dramatic, which makes it beautiful, so it was important to us that the seating not fight with that.
We also had a strong commitment to designing something that could be made anywhere. Materials had to be commonly available, and manufacturing methods had to fit in a finish carpenter’s shop. This mattered, because we’d like the idea to be replicated elsewhere, without having to ship a lot of finished product around.
The other big considerations were efficiency of installation and storage. The ideal solution would install in just a minute or two, then stack away when not in use: a perfect combination of a chair’s portability and a folding seat’s stability.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
User research was minimal on this project, because the user and the use environment were already well-defined. A much greater part of the effort was exploring structural solutions.
The narrow footprint requirement ruled out the obvious folding mechanisms, demanding that we look outside of the furniture world for inspiration. Early rounds of sketch exploration had us testing different structural ideas in 3D CAD, with simple physical models and on paper.
The two areas that yielded the most useful insights were structural engineering and human anatomy. Bridges and tall buildings are incredibly efficient, bearing enormous weight with a minimum of material, in strictly constrained footprints. The cantilever bridge in particular is able to support vast loads in awkward places, through the careful pairing of tension and compression elements.
We also found an analog in the human spine. The spine is thin and flexible, yet strong, and offers a free range of motion right up until it locks in place at its furthest extremity. It does this by stacking a series of discrete, rigid elements -- vertebrae -- connected by strong but flexible ligaments. The bone takes the compression, the ligaments take tension.
What these structures have in common is the use of thick, rigid compression elements, and thinner, more flexible tension elements. Substituting plywood and steel for bone and fiber, we had a viable way of making an articulated cantilevered seat.
Moving from this insight to a working piece of furniture took months of detail work, from specifying the right materials, thicknesses and fasteners to working out the necessary cut angles, and finding a local shop that could execute them precisely. More rounds of prototyping led us to the final, deceptively simple form of the Jumpseat.
Beyond structural considerations, we had to sweat out the details, evaluating different cushioning foams, designing a method of seat attachment that uses just a single bolt, and designing a custom seat cover to catch your keys if they fall from your pocket. The sling-style cover attaches with Velcro, making it removable for washing or replacement, and allowing easy customization.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Environmentally, the Jumpseat demonstrates that furniture need not use a large amount of material, or source from far away, in order to be functional, even in high-use environments like an auditorium. It also relies heavily on local, skilled craftsmanship, elevating the value of traditional craft in a very modern way.
In use, the seat is a delightful thing. First time users tend to grasp the thin, unassuming plane of material and bend it back and forth a few times, uncertain if this is actually a place to sit. Then a sense of wonder sets in, as they realize the unique mechanism it employs, and they slowly extend it all the way down. Sitting is transformed into a slightly magical experience, akin to levitation or bouncing on a diving board, that elicits smiles and sighs. It’s a rare thing to see in an auditorium.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
The Jumpseat project is ongoing, and is intended to spark an expanded line of seating products. We’d like to see standalone Jumpseats as an elegant alternative to folding chairs, and Jumpseats at public venues and on public transportation. If we could’ve done one thing differently, it would have been to find more interested outside parties at the outset, so that these other options could be pursued in parallel.