Ziba’s Folding Seats Help Squeeze More People Into Theaters, Comfortably

The Portland firm created a new typology for the compact theater in its new headquarters.

Bad design usually hides in plain sight. Take auditorium seating: cushioned, fold-down seats that offer just enough leg room to be bearable but not enough space for another person to squeeze past. Really, the only real innovation in movie-theater-style seating in the last century or so has been the addition of cup holders. A new design by Ziba finally fixes all that.


The design was born of necessity. A couple of years ago, the firm moved from its former offices in Portland’s Pearl District to a custom, LEED Gold headquarters, replete with a 200-seat auditorium. One problem: The theater was outfitted with narrow concrete risers that didn’t leave room for standard seating, which tend to be 12 inches thick when closed. So, naturally, the design firm came up with its own solution — a folding chair without front-leg support that, when not in use, has a thickness of a mere four inches.

The JumpSeat — so named because of its similarity to flight-attendant seats ?- is made without traditional hinges or hardware; instead, a cantilever structure of vertebrae-like slats of plywood allows it to support up to 600 pounds. A sheet-steel core is sandwiched between a layer of Baltic birch plywood on one side and removable wool padding on the other, providing enough cushion so that your bum doesn’t go numb. (The seat covers attach with Velcro for easy replacement and cleaning.)

This is not the chair to sit in while enjoying a performance of “Tosca,” but it does make a heap of sense for lecture halls, arenas, and mass transit — where the objective is to sardine as many people into tight quarters as possible. Plus, Ziba says, the simple construction and minimal materials make the seats ideal for local fabrication virtually anywhere, eliminating the need for shipping. Again, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.