Case Study – Chrysler Hall / Scope Arena Plaza
Chrysler Hall / Scope Arena Plaza
Giving an Aging Icon New Life
In 1972, Chrysler Hall debuted as the premiere performing arts venue in Hampton Roads. The pedigreed design team was led by world renowned architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, and included firms from Norfolk, Rome, New York, Watertown, and Chicago. Their collective efforts brought a world class establishment to Norfolk that hosts a variety of spectacular events ranging from Broadway theatrics, operas, symphony orchestra concerts, and ballet performances, to graduations and weddings. Over the last five decades, the building has endured minor alterations and repairs, but its defining features remain unaltered. As Chrysler Hall approaches its 50th year in service, the City’s workhouse performing arts venue is in need of an all-encompassing upgrade. In partnership with GWWO Architects and an extensive team of experts, VIA design is leading a transformational design that will honor the historical context of the building and site, strengthen the competitive edge to attract blockbuster shows, and enhance the entire patron experience from point of arrival until the curtains close.
Roundtable Consultant Meeting At VIA's Office
Roundtable Consultant Meeting In Chrysler Hall's Auditorium
Andrew Leading Consultants On A Walkthrough Of Chrysler Hall Discussing Proposed Updates
Keith Leading A Walkthrough Around The Scope / Chrysler Plaza Discussing Existing Conditions And Proposed Alterations
Workshop With Client And Consultant Discussing The IT Needs Of Chrysler Hall
Bringing A Team Together
As a historically significant complex and main focal point within the City of Norfolk we knew the importance of having the right team of specialists and experts to successfully fulfill the desired improvements. Not only is this project grand in scale, but it’s also extremely complex in nature. Our firm, founded and located in Downtown Norfolk yards away from the Chrysler Hall + Scope Plaza, is the Lead in Team Management. We are fortunate to be working with and learning from 16 of the nation’s leading consultants in theatre planning, acoustical logistics, and a host of talented engineers. As Project Manager we have created a meticulous schedule for design, project milestones, and delivery. This role also requires extensive team and client coordination, and significant organization to deliver on time and within budget. We are collaborating with the entire team of experts to maintain the project’s focus on the three objectives: historical preservation, guest experience, and back of house loading and unloading bay modifications.
Balancing a team of this magnitude takes significant time and great care to successfully guide. Since the inception of the project we have ensured that all consultants, stakeholders, and City leadership are included and invited to all meetings. This has been a positive and pivotal piece in the project’s movement forward. Our philosophy is to include all parties from beginning to end ensuring the very best ideas come forward. This decision systematically enables communication among the team and no details are lost in translation.
Opportunities to improve the patron experience revolve around the design team’s commitment to one simple, large-scale move that will have major impact – removal of the existing ‘Continental’ style auditorium seating and replacing with a modern layout.
Continental seating is a style of seating that was popular for a short duration that began in the late 1960s and continued into the early 1970s. This seating arrangement consists of wall-to-wall rows of seats that are immediately adjacent to each other without any aisles. Some rows consist of 55 seats or more which becomes inconvenient every time an individual in the center of the room enters or leaves and results in the ‘excuse me, pardon me’ effect, where every individual in the row has to stand so the person entering can access their seat. Further, continental seating requires doors at the end of each row of seats which results in a loss of a significant amount of floor area. During intermission, the doors open and patrons flood out into side lobbies that are small and cramped. Existing accessible seating locations are extremely limited and only offer select locations seating locations for patrons with mobility impairments.
Existing Auditorium Seating In 'Continental' Format
Team Meeting Discussing Seating On The Chrysler Hall Stage
'Seating Meeting' Test Of Existing Seats To Get First Hand Experience Of What A Patron Experiences During A Show
Seat Width Analysis Conducted By VIA To Get An Accurate Summary Of Existing Conditions
Seating Layout Iterations To Determine Best Way To Get The Required Number Of Seats Along With The New Cross and Vertical Aisles
Updated Floorplan Showcasing Additional Restrooms And Accessibility Paths That Were Captured Once The Cross and Vertical Aisles Were Added
A new, grand opening in the expansive travertine wall between the main lobby and the auditorium will provide a direct and intuitive route into the auditorium’s new proposed seating layout. From this grand entrance, two aisles will continue from the rear directly up to the stage. A central cross aisle that passes through the auditorium permits patrons to easily cross from one side to the other without imposing upon others and still permits patrons to enter or exit the auditorium from the side lobbies just as they do today. Accessible seats will be available along the entire cross aisle to better serve individuals with mobility impairments. Collectively, the cross and vertical aisles break up large groups of seats into shorter rows, resulting in an auditorium that is far easier to navigate and presents a much friendlier, more social atmosphere.
Transitioning from a ‘Continental’ seating layout to a more modern layout also allows the design team to take patron experience to another level in the lobby area as well. Circulation into and out of the auditorium is now available at five entrances instead of two rows of entrances to allow the side lobbies to act as gathering spaces rather than seating queues. The current space layout meets the code requirement for the minimum number of restroom fixtures. However, current industry standards strive to exceed these minimums. Further, the current layout divides genders between the north and south lobbies. This splits up groups and creates unnecessary congestion during intermissions when patrons have to walk from one lobby to the other. Space that is reclaimed during the transition to the modern layout will be used to increase the number of restroom fixtures and provide male and female restrooms on each side of the auditorium. This increase in restroom fixtures will also decrease wait time for the restrooms, allowing patrons to spend more of their time enjoying the revitalized lobby and auditorium.
With intensive changes like this, it is vital to have a team that is on the same page. Each meeting, walkthrough, and collaboration effort is a learning experience allowing each team member to see an inside look into each other’s profession and process. Idea sharing among our team members and client is what ultimately leads to great design decisions and to the success of improving Chrysler Hall.
Elevating the Patron Experience
The new entryways into the orchestra seating, the addition of a cross-aisle, and additional restrooms are part of a larger goal of elevating the patron experience. In addition to these changes, expanded lobbies, updated wayfinding signage, and interior refinements will make the pre- and post-show experience more fitting with the amazing on stage performances that take place at Chrysler Hall.
Proposed Updates to the Entry Lobby
Proposed Updates to the Orchestra Level Patron Flow
Proposed Updates to the Restroom Locations on the Orchestra Level
Proposed Update to the Dress Circle Grand Lobby
Proposed Update to the Dress Circle Grand Lobby viewed from the Balcony Level