Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

University of Sussex, UKStage Modules seats

The Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts is a unique venue, designed by architect Basil Spence as a series of circles. Even the main auditorium is circular - creating some interesting challenges in terms of both acoustics and layout. It’s also an extremely busy multipurpose space hosting up to eight different events in a single week, including lectures, installations, plays and symposia.

The auditorium can be configured in a number of different ways. It can be completely flat, from the back of the auditorium right across the stage. It can also take the shape of a traditional tiered theatre, or it can have tiered seating to the rear and standing space in front of the stage. Retractable platforms are used to create tiers of seating down floor level. However, to create an all-seated configuration which is stepped right down to the front of the stage, more tiers need to be effectively sunk into the floor. Previously, this was achieved using “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 by our 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 configurations possible. The modules were custom built to perfectly fit the unique shape of the auditorium, which meant they could be customised for the Attenborough Centre’s exact requirements, for example with fascias that create a seamless stepped finish when the auditorium is tiered.

The installation was carried out during the theater’s two-week dark period over the summer. “The German 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.”