Theatre Vogue

The Top Ten Trends in Multiplex Design

As theatre designers, the number-one question asked of us after "How much?" is "What's new?" Over the years, trends have been created, copied, changed, discontinued, renewed, get the picture. How do you build a better theatre? We all have our opinions. Compare yours to our top ten list of examples of what's new in theatre design over the last five years.

No. 10: Development
Development deals are structured in a variety of ways. An appealing model is for the theatre to be an anchor in a mixed-use development. In many ways, mixed-use has been replacing standalone locations as the primary development model. It is no secret that theatre foot traffic is desirable to developers as a draw for retailers and restaurants. In return, the developer may input financially to the theatre in some way.
Additionally, underserved markets are development targets, and are plentiful. The building design should reflect the market. The key is to supply an economical solution while maintaining the quality experience.

No. 9: Attention to Age Groups
The mature crowd has come to expect exclusive consideration. There is an increasing amount of diverse, independent film product. Since these movies normally attract an over-21 crowd, a natural extension to concessions is alcohol service. Mature audiences arrive early and linger longer, providing opportunities for additional amenities and services.
Attention to the youth crowd revolves around entertainment: games, video, music. New releases of video games are advertised similar to movies. Games also get critical reviews like movies. Check your newspaper. Dream up concepts to keep the "X-boxers" coming back.

No 8: Building Bits and Pieces
"Add-ons," "accessories," "gear" is the stuff we crave. Here's what we've been seeing inside the cinema building: wall-mounted aisle lighting, motion-sensor flush valves, faucets and hand dryers, vinyl composition flooring in auditoriums, more hard flooring in lobbies and promenades, custom lighting, plasters, more durable surface treatments, decorative lightweight ceiling treatments, way-finding signage, larger restroom stalls, more lavatories, extra fixtures in the ladies room...

No. 7: Image
Creating an "environment" is natural in the cinema and sometimes a challenge. The trick is to pay attention to the overall appearance and highlight certain areas where you stretch the limits and drop some serious dough. Don't get that fear factor. This is routinely money well-spent. The use and development of a special design feature can distinguish one cinema from another.

No. 6: Lively Lobby Experience
The lobby is not just the space you pass through before you get to your auditorium. You can get information on movies, food, services and pricing-and be entertained. Flat-screen monitors of all sizes have come down in price and are used to convey the normal theatre information as a fast-paced collage: advertising, promotions, trailers, television, videogames, Internet and e-mail.
New LED products provide both maintenance and cost benefits. Floor and wall-covering products, laminates and metals have kept pace with new patterns, materials, colors and color combinations that can supplement that theatrical feeling and then take it up a notch.

No. 5: VIP Treatment
Service, service, service. We are a society that expects to be catered to and are willing to pay for it. Try reserved seats, unique seats, the romantic notion of a balcony, VIP viewing rooms, expanded menu items, alcohol, special parking, special access and any other comforts you can think of and charge a premium.
Access to special seating requires a building design solution which can be delicate in terms of operations and availability to the disabled. A wide-ranging menu may dictate the need for a more conventional kitchen with additional space requirements for refrigeration, equipment, washing and accompanying exhaust and utilities.
To monitor service, there are many ways to provide a "concierge" area where patrons can get information or speak with a manager about service.

No.4: Projection and Sound
Digital chatter is everywhere. The reality of digital projection is upon us. For now, the booth needs to have the physical capacity for both a digital and 35mm projector. Port window layout is affected. Power and exhaust requirements are increasing.
Speakers and sound design are evolving. Patrons expect to feel the sound. Quantity, placement, quality and physical size of speakers have advanced. Auditorium sidewall design and sound isolation details follow the standard set by the newest technologies. So far we have only seen a glimpse of the future.

No. 3: Larger Screens
It's very rare, but there is the occasional person who complains that the screen is too big. This phenomenon usually only occurs when the front seats are placed too close to the screen. To be honest, we are on autopilot on this subject of screen presentation as we strive to fill up the front wall with screen. The strategy here is to balance the cost of additional building height and/or excavations with the science of sightlines, view angles, projection angles and disabled-seating positions.

No. 2: Conveniences
Patrons may become irritated about waiting in lines. To help reduce ticketing lines and to help satisfy our "to go" tendencies, self-ticketing machines are utilized inside and outside of the cinema. Just swipe your credit card and go. Also, theatre operators have sophisticated and user-friendly websites where buying tickets via the Internet is quick and easy. Moviegoers retrieve the tickets at a will-call counter or self e-ticket machine at the theatre. Cash ATMs are everywhere, including cinema lobbies.
Working parents take advantage of party-room promotions. No housekeeping is necessary and the kids are occupied for several hours. "Family restrooms" are positively perceived by the public, especially moms with toddlers, and are rarely called "unisex" as written in the International Building Code.

And the number one example of what's new is...
A Total Entertainment Experience
This is an "experience"-driven society. People have more disposable income and want to unwind and be entertained in clean, safe and fun surroundings. The demand on today's theatres can be much more than going to see a movie. Now we are challenged with the time-honored moviegoing objective of taking you to another time and place, and expanding it beyond the auditorium. It's the total experience. So, the buildings are packed with goodies. Our clients guide us toward what is cost-effective and functional for them, while an environment is created in response to the pressures of competition. Keep up and hang onto your budget, as an insatiable appetite for entertainment drives what's next for movie theatres.

Jack Muffoletto is Vice President of TK Architects International and may be reached at 816-842-7552 or e-mail