Harvard - Loeb Drama Center
Location:The Loeb Drama Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
A Project Worthy of a Standing Ovation
Harvard University is one of the world’s most revered and celebrated institutions
of higher education. For the university to maintain its level of excellence requires a
commitment across every facet of the institution, including ensuring its facilities are of
the highest standard.
In 2010, Harvard started the process of upgrading its Loeb Drama Center with new
seats. Opened in 1960 through the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the
556-seat venue is home to several theatrical organizations and is host to multiple
events throughout the year. The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T) administers
the facility for the university. A.R.T. is an award-winning organization that produces
groundbreaking theatrical works and whose mission is to expand the boundaries of
theater. The facility is also home to A.R.T’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training
and its Experimental Theater, as well as the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, an
undergraduate extra-curricular theatrical company. All told, the facility hosts more
than 300 performances on its main stage in any given year.
“With all the organizations that call the Loeb home, as well as the number of
productions we host every year, it leaves very little time for renovations and
upgrades,” said A.R.T. Theater Manager Tracy Keene. “As a result, it had probably
been 20 years since we did our last seating renovation.”
Act I: Setting the Stage
One of the first steps Harvard took in the process was to determine which seating
manufacturer to consider for this important replacement project. Knowing the
existing seats were from American Seating and had proven extremely durable for five
decades, the Grand Rapids, Mich., company became the leading choice.
A second consideration was determining the type of seat that should be installed.
Harvard wanted to maintain the original look of the theater – a 1960s “modern
century” aesthetic. Additionally, the school wanted to increase the venue’s seating
capacity, including adding more ADA compliant seats. This meant it needed to
work with a partner fully versed and experienced in seat planning design, physical
construction and code compliance.
American Seating’s experience and expertise – notably its rich history in the theater
and performing arts market — made it the clear choice for Harvard.
“I come from a theater background, not construction so it was a little bit daunting
when the project first began,” Keene admitted. “But as the project progressed,
American Seating made it easy to understand the process and what was required.”
Act II: Meet the Protagonist
By the spring of 2011, Harvard had finished specifying its seating choice, finishes and
fabrics. The Stellar 220 was selected, not only for its strength and durability, but also
for its smart design. The chair’s plastic outer-back panel provides a slim profile and
crisp, contemporary lines. The upholstered seat and back, specified in a rich suede
merlot fabric, are engineered and shaped for ultimate comfort and full back support,
ideal for environments such as the Loeb Drama Center where people sit for hours
at a time. The cast iron end standards and ADA accessible armrests in a light cherry
wood veneer further complemented Harvard’s modern design and functionality
But Stellar offered several other benefits. First, as a highly durable and long-lasting
product, the seats will remain in use for many years. This will reduce the cost, energy and materials needed to repair or replace a product of lesser quality. It also provides a
significant return on initial investment.
Moreover, Stellar has multiple “green” advantages. Because of its longevity, the
product automatically lessens the burden on landfills. Stellar can also contribute to
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits due to, among other
things, its components that can be recycled after its useful life and its recycled content
composition, which totals more than 50 percent.
And for even greater peace-of-mind, American Seating can provide FSC (Forestry
Stewardship Council)-certified cores and accessories, and no added UF (ureaformaldehyde)
resins. The product also meets the rigorous CAL 133 requirement for
fire safety standards.
Act III: An Element of Suspense
Yet specifying the “right” chair for the Loeb Drama Center was just one aspect
of this important seating upgrade. The other element included the installation,
which needed to be done quickly and expertly since the center is in almost constant
use throughout the year. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the Loeb has
a technically complex seating arrangement. Specifically, the rear seating section
contains 404 fixed seats in 12 rows, with each row one-foot higher than the
preceding. The lower section, although less steeply raked, contains two seat wagons,
each housing 77 seats. The two seat wagons, operating independently of each other,
can be raised and turned and are designed to operate in three different positions:
proscenium, apron (or thrust) and opposing.
Act IV: The Conclusion
“This project was by no means easy,” said Keene. “But the American Seating
representative was always there when I needed her. Whether it was through
email, phone or coming by in-person, she was readily available. We also had great
communication throughout the project, which helped us circumnavigate any
potential issues that could have arisen and helped us meet a very tight timeframe.”
The removal of the old seats and the installation of the new ones took most of the
month of June. But by early July, the installation was complete and rehearsal for the
next production was already underway.
“American Seating was great to work with. The whole process was virtually
seamless,” Keene explained.
American Seating’s ability to provide the best seating solution and meet a tight
timeframe was paramount. But the real measure of success lies with the thousands of
patrons who visit the Loeb Drama Center every year for world-class performances. To
date, the feedback Keene has received has been overwhelmingly positive.
“A lot of our patrons have been coming to the theater for years and were familiar
with the old seating. The feedback I’ve been getting is that we now have a dramatic
improvement in terms of comfort and cushion with the new seats. This is important
since our productions can run two- to-three hours.”
This performance is one in which both the American Repertory Theater at Harvard
University and American Seating are proud to take a bow.