September 9, 2011

Reduce, Reuse

When it came time for the University of Massachusetts Amherst to renovate the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, they had a decision to make: replace the existing auditorium seating with new chairs, or refurbish the existing chairs that had served them so well since the Fine Arts Center opened in 1975. As we assessed the options, the choice became clear.

The existing 2,023 seats were very high quality, as evidenced by their incredible condition after 35 years of use. With metal frames, simple and effective joinery, and mohair upholstery, they easily stood up to heavy use by both students and the community. Equally important, their clean lines fit the aesthetic of the hall itself.

New chairs, in contrast, were made primarily of plastic with bulkier profiles and a more expensive price tag. A decision for new chairs would also mean sending more than 2,000 functional existing chairs to the landfill. For this reason, the move to new chairs just didn’t sit right with anyone's sustainability initiatives. Refurbishing the existing seats, however, fit perfectly with the University’s efforts to conserve their resources, reduce their waste, increase their recycling, and build sustainably. 

The finishes for the refurbished chairs were carefully selected to meet performance criteria that are specific to theater design. Mohair fabric is especially durable in this setting, as its unique construction stands up well to crushing. We chose a matte black metal finish, rather than a satin or semi-gloss finish found in most furniture, so that the seats would not catch any of the stage lighting, thereby reducing distracting points of sparkle in the audience. Finally, we chose dark colored finishes so that the seats would “disappear” when the house lights went down, allowing all attention to be directed to its intended point—the stage.

By choosing to refurbish the existing chairs, the University was able to make a sustainable decision for the next generation that would use the chairs as well. They selected very high quality materials, so that the chairs will last long into the future. With new mohair upholstery, high density foam, and durable metal finish, the University is confident that the chairs will function beautifully for the next 35 years—an economically and environmentally sustainable move that they can feel good about.