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The Triangle of Communication in Auditoriums

By Craig Janssen

triangle_of_communication-1Auditoriums serve a multitude of communication styles and goals. In our work we see 3 broad directions of communication that affect auditorium design – hence directing acoustics and technology design:

  • From the platform to the audience.
  • From the audience back to the platform.
  • From the audience to each other.

Depending on the use of the space, auditorium designs typically favor support of one direction of communication over the others, creating sides of the triangle of communication that are more dominant than others.

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Presentational. Auditoriums where the goal of use is primarily to communicate a message. Excellent sightlines and audible connection to presentations from the stage is the dominant priority. Acoustics may or may not be highly controlled depending on the space use. Technologies (AVL) commonly are a high priority in these spaces. Audience leaving the space will invariably talk of effective communication within the space, and can be part of the experience while feeling anonymous. Many conference center, lecture halls, some worship centers and some theaters reflect this design priority by use of flat floors, mildly sloped seating or seating that simply allow sight lines to the stage.

Responsive. Auditoriums where the goal of use is high engagement with the audience – more than simple communication. These spaces invariably wrap seating along side walls and start to wrap seating around the stage – with the goal of creating a high sense of connection for both communicator/performer and audience. Technologies (AVL) occasionally become a slightly reduced priority as the space begins to increase in connection influence. Acoustics and AVL become more complex due to architectural complexity. Audiences describe these spaces as “engaging”. Many theatres and worship centers use this design.

Community. Auditoriums where the goal is to create a very high sense of community within the space – where the audience participation and engagement is as high a value as the stage performance/communication. These spaces wrap the audience around the stage (sometimes completely), occasionally bringing seating onto the stage. The focal point of the seating is not simply the stage, but also the other seating areas. These spaces further demote the priority of technology in the program, however the complexity of the space design can significantly increase the difficulty of AVL and acoustics design. Audiences describe experiences in these spaces as “enveloping”. This design approach is common in black box theaters, in experimental theatre, in a limited number of contemporary worship centers and is prevalent in many traditional worship spaces.

As we consult with clients for new venues in development, we are leading discussions about going beyond the historic paths of communication in the room.  Culture and technology are on a trajectory toward a user-defined experience–one that gives the ability for people to set their own paths of connection.  The forms for this are limited only by creativity and rely on the power of handheld devices, broadband internet and innovative architecture.

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