From Fixed to Flex — Design Trends in Fixed Seating for 2021

As 2021 changes the way we work, it also changes the way we make it through the workday comfortably.

Recent events have propelled change in more ways than one. The need to be flexible and adapt to change has infiltrated every aspect of our working lives, the way we interact with each other on a social level and even how we study. The design trends in 2021 for fixed seating are defined by this requirement in order to offer more flexible alternatives in line with today’s demands.

Are fixed seating and flexibility mutually exclusive?

When we think of fixed seating – we think of exactly that. Seating that is fixed and inflexible. However, among the trends that we will start to see more of in 2021 is the concept that fixed seating may not necessarily need to be entirely fixed. Imagine a lecture hall that offers the durability and practicality of fixed seating with the advantage of being flexible. Seating that can adapt and grow with us according to what we need from year to year. Is it possible?

The recurring theme across the design trends for 2021 is flexibility. The design features that we will be seeing more of in 2021 and beyond have been born of the demand for seating solutions that can adapt to our ever-changing needs, from the impact of a pandemic to changing expectations on sustainability. Let’s take a closer look.

Fixed Seating Design Trend #1 – Flexibility

Beam with Cempa Shell Topper

Fixed seating that isn’t fixed? Flexibility is key this year. We have learned from recent events that we need to be able to adapt and make rapid changes when needed in order to thrive. Companies in any sector have been able to withstand the current pandemic, and even thrive, when capable of making swift adaptations – be it moving online, streamlining their processes or tweaking product design features to become more appealing. The public expects more health and safety measures – and when it comes to the high usage rate of fixed seating in corporate environments or universities a more flexible option is inevitably the preferable one.

More design options with regards to fixed seating include the ease of cleaning and also optimization of space. In a recent interview, Gary Bialk, our Fixed Seating Manager described a new form of seating positioned on a beam rail, where seat toppers can be moved and fixed at various points. Seating can be positioned further apart than traditional fixed or beam seating and later on, post-pandemic, additional toppers can be added and moved closer together if desired. Dauphin will be offering this alternative beam seating with movable toppers within the next six months.

Fixed Seating Design Trend #2 – Collaboration

Another trend that we have seen gain more popularity recently and is predicted to become even more popular in 2021 and beyond is especially interesting for designers of lecture halls. Traditionally, fixed lecture hall seating has forward-facing chairs with little to no variation. In a recent interview, our Fixed Seating Manager Gary Bialk spoke about seats that while fixed to the ground, pivot in a fashion that permits end-users to face each other even when they are on different rows. While this may not be desirable now, we know this flexibility will be indispensable in post-pandemic times.

Rota with Cempa Shell Topper

This trend will be seen more in the coming months in newly refurbished spaces and is already being implemented in the USA. Columbia, SUNY and NJIT are at the forefront of this shift in seating design. ‘Turn and learn’ seating allows both the traditional lecture hall arrangement – all eyes are on the lecturer, but also makes way for the collaborative learning aspect which is permeating education and corporate environments. With collaboration proven to be beneficial for learners and even corporate teams, more end-users are predicted to follow suit and incorporate pivoting chairs into their auditoriums and lecture halls.

We have established this trend in recent years and its success is expected to continue well beyond 2021. The State University of New York is another perfect example of a university using this rotation style seating with success. See the feedback from end-users that Project Manager Onyekachi Akoma has collected here.

Fixed Seating Design Trend #3 – Engagement

A typical problem with lecture hall and auditorium design is obstructed sightlines. Sightlines to the front of class and presentation screens must be carefully planned to prevent students from having to look up and crane their necks to an unacceptable degree. To avoid this problem, the environment can be adapted without costly and labor-intensive renovations. Row seating can be installed with staggered heights without major construction and the pouring of a new concrete pad.

Rota with Cempa Shell Topper

One way to achieve better sightlines is to set the first row to a normal height, and as you move back through the rows increase the height of the seating so that even those at the back of the room can see clearly and be more engaged. A recent article for Edutopia summarized that, “By seamlessly connecting pedagogy, technology, and space, […] can create spaces that promote social learning and maximum engagement.” There are many factors that foster high engagement including the furnishings. Key design features can make all the difference when it comes to student engagement. Comfort, ergonomics and aesthetics are non-negotiable. These features, teamed with practicality, give us all the ingredients of a superior experience.

Fixed Seating Design Trend #4 – Sustainability

Sustainable, robust materials are next on the agenda. The 2021 consumer is more aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions and is more likely to trust companies that have environmentally considerate philosophies. The consumer is leading the market by demanding sustainable materials. They want less impact on the world’s already limited natural resources with products that will not need to be replaced after a few short years. This is even more apparent as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a recent BCG survey shows. The pandemic has shifted global consumer attitudes toward environmental issues. “Ninety percent of consumer respondents said they were equally or more concerned about these issues after the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly 95% said they believed their personal actions could help reduce unsustainable waste, tackle climate change, and protect wildlife and biodiversity, with 27% to 30% noting that this belief had strengthened as a result of the crisis.”

It is important within our industry to recognize the influential power of young people with regards to sustainability. Young people haven’t been conditioned completely to adapt to the status quo. They are leading the changes that need to be made in society as a whole, and we should not only acknowledge this, but accommodate their sentiments and be proactive about adopting sustainable practices.

Contento Auditorium Seating

Seating solutions with robust, well thought-out systems from environmentally reputable manufacturers are the way forward as we move through 2021 and beyond. Not having to replace the seating of an entire auditorium because the seating is built to last well beyond the average, is in itself a sustainably oriented practice. We know aesthetic trends change and throw-away fashion doesn’t contribute to a sustainable world. We suggest finding a balance by offering a sustainable and robust product with reupholstery options so that facilities can invest in quality, sustainable products without worrying about them looking antiquated.

Our Fixed Seating Manager, Gary Bialk advises that many seating options will need to be replaced every 10-20 years while auditorium seating may not need to be renovated for twenty or more years. Long-lasting design features for auditorium seating to look for are cold-molded foam cushions, steel as the main material both in the supports and in the frame and gravity-lift seats that don’t have springs that can break.

2021 and beyond defined by flexibility

The design trends in fixed seating going forward are characterized by flexibility and practicality. While the aesthetic design and comfort are fundamental, universities are looking for seating solutions that can evolve as the world changes. Whether in the face of a pandemic or collaboration trends, seating solutions need to be adaptable. The delicate balance between durability and flexibility is the sweet spot, because sustainable products that can adapt as education and corporate environments evolve are essential design trends in 2021.


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