The Roundhouse

Camden, London1306 seats

The Roundhouse, a vibrant venue in Camden, London, hosts an eclectic mix of arts, theatre, conferences and gigs, as well as playing a crucial role in the development of the local artistic community. Round (but not perfectly so!), the Grade II listed auditorium dates back to Victorian times, with beautiful ironwork columns that recall its role as a tramshed.

Fitting a retractable seating system around these is a challenge in itself. However, the Roundhouse has an added challenge. Any seating system used in the venue has to be able to be taken out of the venue in small sections to be stored in shipping containers in the yard. The venue had a seating system in place, but it was an eye-watering kit of 30,000 parts, taking four days to install or remove, with a £25,000 labour bill. Understandably, the seating was not brought into the venue very often! The Roundhouse team decided that any replacement system would need to be installable in a single day – vastly improving their ability to put on a flexible programme of events that might need a small audience area, 270 degrees of seating around a thrust stage, or the full 360 degree “in the round” layout.

Elina Pieridou at theatre consultants Charcoalblue came up with a concept design that would address these challenges, as well as improving sightlines and accessibility, and asked Audience Systems to make it happen. This was no mean feat. The system consists of 54 jigsaw pieces, with each piece a complete retractable system. The engineering to get the retractable systems into the shipping containers was a project in itself, with Audience Systems’ engineering team creating a special hydraulic ramp as well as custom stillages that slide into the shipping containers like drawers, each holding eight of the smaller units. The larger units are also fitted with integral hydraulics, to allow them to be wheeled into the venue without a forklift.

Where possible the retractable units are fitted with fold-down Espace chairs; the front rows of the system have too gentle a rake to be able to accommodate the seats on the closed units, so removable chairs in groups slot into place. A small number of stacking chairs complete the auditorium.

Elina Pieridou of Charcoalblue said, “It's a unique design. It's a very bespoke system, very sleek, and it’s finished wonderfully. There are some engineering efficiencies that are ingenious, and it's a testament to Audience Systems and its engineering department.

Ruth Butler, Head of Technical and Production at The Roundhouse said, “The new systems replaces our old seating structure which was a kit of parts. 30,000 parts, took four days to put in, and had a labour bill of £25,000. This changes it entirely. We’ve got a one day build, hopefully in the region of about £5-10,000 labour bill, and it opens up the opportunity for us to use those seats for lots of different art forms. Before we were wed to performing arts shows only, now we can do gigs, events, world’s our oyster. It’s been a pleasure working with Audience Systems. There are some really knowledgeable members of that team. Nick in particular is a great engineer, and has designed a bespoke system that neither us nor Audience Systems have ever been able to do before.”    

Our video tells the story of the Roundhouse, as well as showing you all the action of this massive installation of seating.