How to design a new generation of cinema?

In this paper, Chapman Taylor UK Director, David Wallace, examines the latest trends in cinema design, and how to take them to the next level.

Cinema attendance is generally on the increase, despite the large choice of platforms we have to watch movies on. The cinema experience has come a long way over the years, and, as digital cinematography evolves, so do the cinemas we watch them in. In this paper, UK Director David Wallace explores the latest trends in cinema design, specifically in developed markets such as the UK, and how we can take them to the next level.

Digital delivery

The steady adoption of digital delivery in place of 35mm film reel has significantly changed how cinemas are designed. Prior to digital, the operational necessity to share film over multiple projectors dictated a very rigid layout of those auditoria. Now, with digital, there is no need to share film. Instead, the digital files are transferred and shared via a cable or disk, and those adjacent auditoria can be in different locations in both plan and section. For the developer, this means cinemas can now fit into more odd-shaped buildings and spaces. For the operator, it means more seats per m² of lettable area.

Diversification 

As mature markets diversify, which is all part of the growth cycle, more options and alternatives are being developed. Now there are regular cinemas, premium cinemas, art-house cinemas, cinemas in hospitals, cinemas in hotels and apartment blocks, in student accommodation etc. - all a consequence of digital delivery and a mature market. For audiences, the style and design of the cinema can be as important as the movie in making the cinema visit an unforgettable experience.

As part of the drive to catch more customers and market share, cinema operators are now installing ‘add-ons’ to their standard offer. Large format screens, like IMAX, Cineworld SUPERSCREEN, Vue XTREME, Empire IMPACT etc. are now the norm. Sound systems like Dolby ATMOS, VIP seats, in-theatre dining and motion theatre such as 4DX are all appearing more frequently in new cinema designs. It is important to keep updated on all of these developments, as each element has its own particular technical and operational requirements to be incorporated into the design process. 

Laser projection

After years of development, laser projection has recently made its debut at IMAX Leicester Square, London, and the IMAX at Mall of Emirates, Dubai. It is the next level of getting massive amounts of light onto big screens for a super-bright image with amazing contrast. I expect this technology will receive a lot of press and a lot of push from the industry. As designers, we will need to be mindful of the restrictions that this will impose on viewing of the laser source, and how this translates into the layout of the cinema.



Projection accessibility

With digital delivery, there is a move to house the actual projector within acoustic pods that drop down/pull out etc. at the touch of a button, to afford access for maintenance. A number of companies are now developing and manufacturing such platforms. This gives more flexibility in location and geometry of auditoria, and saves the cost and space of a regular projection floor level.  It is important to remember, though, that projectors still need access for maintenance.

All these developments prove, once again, that people still want to go the cinema as a form of entertainment. Cinema operators are incurring huge expense to bring all these offers to the customer, and it’s encouraging to see that cinema attendance is still steadily rising. This is particularly good news given the multitude of options we now have to watch a movie, whether on your phone, tablet, large TV or from the headrest of your car. These contemporary audiences are demanding very high standards of comfort, of ancillary facilities, and of technical presentation, and as designers we must ensure that we deliver the quality of building that reflects this.

About the Author

David Wallace (B.Arch. Dip. Arch, RIBA)

Director, London

David joined Chapman Taylor’s London studio as a Director in 2015 and leads our work in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

He has over 25 years’ experience working internationally in the cinema sector, as well as the fast-moving Chinese hospitality market.  

He has an established track-record and reputation for good design with an ability to deliver projects on time and to budget.

Areas of expertise:

Leisure / Hospitality

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