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working details: Hampstead Theatre Bennetts Associates

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Curved acoustic screens to theatre seating

The elliptical auditorium plan fulfilled the brief for intimacy with the stage, but created the possibility of disorientating acoustic effects.A series of screens, curved in plan and clad with 18mm black American walnut-veneered MDF slats, has been designed to counteract these effects. Laid horizontally, the slats define the curves of the room, yet are acoustically transparent; concealed behind are faceted MDF baffle panels, which scatter sound.

The curved screens to the stalls and balcony circle are also sinuous in section, raking back more steeply toward the centre than at the sides. The support system had to accommodate these configurations.

The key support is a series of steel fins with laser-cut serrated front edges. They are bolted to the steel structure by means of angles with slotted holes for adjustment.

To each fin is bolted a pair of shaped steel brackets, with slotted holes for further adjustment, and varying in length to suit their position - they are longer at the stalls than at the balcony circle.

Each pair supports a vertical support member - steel block, MDF post and aluminium channel filled with a hardwood strip. The edges of the MDF baffle panels are fixed to the posts and the vertical battens which support the horizontal slats are fixed to the hardwood strips.

At every third fin a vertical aluminium channel is set between the ends of the rows of horizontal slats, to make a neat edge joint.

The rear of the screen is clad with red-painted 6mm MDF panels fixed to timber battens set between the steel fins. In some positions the rear face is stepped to give a toe space.

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