Connect Seating for Lecture Theatres

The design and evolution of a lecture seating system that has diversified learning opportunities throughout the world.

Burwell Architects Connect furniture system was first introduced in 2011 at Loughborough University. We now licence the design to Race Furniture, with whom we have developed a series of new lecture theatres for universities in the UK and Ireland. The system is being used by ourselves and other architects in projects in Europe and the US, and with each iteration comes new innovations. Most recently we have incorporated IT technology into the desking, so that digital learning can be shared, as well as diverse arrangements, including opposite seating, and a hybrid theatre and seminar room.

The original concept was developed in response to contemporary teaching and learning techniques. We reassembled the traditional model of a tiered lecture theatre into a teaching environment at the new Design School at Loughborough University. Formulated around a series of continuous snaking benches with shared tables, the arrangement maximises sight lines within the space whilst allowing interchange between didactic and group learning formats without any reorganisation of either furniture or student. The plywood structure and its fabric upholstery, which sit directly onto the auditorium tiers, are both robust and elegantly uncomplicated, belying the complexity of the pedagogic issues that have been resolved.

This furniture system, developed with Race Furniture, is disarmingly simple, avoiding the need for moving parts or sophisticated mechanisms. This allowed prototyping and input form the University’s product designs and ergonomists without undue cost or programme implications. The new seating negates the need for break-out space and has proved popular with users. In a time when budgets are under scrutiny and pedagogic requirements are changing, simple and effective design solutions, that promote multiple uses, allow universities to dramatically improve the quality, utilization rate – and ultimately, the efficiency – of their educational spaces are unsurprisingly very popular with education clients.

Three new lecture theatres for Imperial College London at their South Kensington campus, are the most recent examples of the use of the Connect seating system in a Burwell Architects project. To establish opportunities for interactive learning, the arrangement and specification of these lecture spaces have been designed to allow a more diverse range of teaching activities: to include group activities with shared digital inputs and outputs. Based on the principle that comfortable and informal arrangements of seating patterns create natural student groupings, we have found that our approach has positively encouraged and enabled a wider range of collaborative learning. The lecture theatres are the result of considerable pedagogical research that aims to produce active, rather than didactic learning opportunities. Evidence demonstrates that these lecture theatres are booked for teaching more often than traditional raked theatres, and that even when the space is free, students choose to use them for collaborative and private study.