The Next Chapter Theater at TED2014 smells incredible. That’s because it was constructed of Douglas Fir, harvested locally in the Pacific Northwest, and assembled on-site in Vancouver, Canada, over the past four and a half days. See, the Vancouver Convention Centre is perfect for TED—it’s beautifully designed, environmentally friendly, and has sweeping views of Vancouver bay and North Shore Mountains. However, it didn’t have a theater. That meant that TED got to build our own, designing the ultimate space for giving and watching talks.
TED partnered with Rockwell Group to design and build this unique theater. From the stage, the speaker is at mid-level and, rather than looking up or way down at the audience, is able to see the faces around them and make connections as they talk. Meanwhile, attendees can choose if they want an upright seat or a comfy sofa — they can even opt to stand in a special section, which has a ledge for devices. In total, there are more than 13 seating options, fabricated and customized by Steelcase.
The arced, half-circle shape of the theater means that attendees can see and engage with each other while watching a talk, instead of being oriented squarely ahead. And this year, the stage design has been stripped back to keep things simple and our production team devised a set-up to allow for cinematic filming of talks without booms and dollys that distract attendees.
The theater was built nearby in more than 8,000 structural timber pieces created with the help of a computer-aided cutting machine which arrived at Vancouver Convention Center on 50 trucks. The whole operation required the help of Swiss exhibition construction company NUSSLI, which performed an extensive logistics study to generate a precise hour-by-hour load-in and load-out schedule.
The theater was designed as individual “boxes” of approximately 10’ x 12’ x 20’ which fit together for easy assembly. Each individual “box” withstands the dynamic forces imposed when moved and, in total, it’s designed to stand up to the normal live/dead loads in any other building. The theater build was scheduled down to the hour, and there was zero wiggle-room in timing, as it needed to be ready for speaker rehearsals on Sunday. (In the meantime, TED staff members going in and out of the area were required to wear hard hats and steel-toed boots.)
Building a theater on such a tight timeline was a big risk, but one we think will pay off. “It’s what we’ve long dreamed of: a theater designed specifically for TED Talks,” says TED curator Chris Anderson. “We think that with the right design it’s possible to create an even more powerful connection between speaker and audience.”
David Rockwell drew on his experience speaking and attending TED to help create the perfect space.
“It’s kind of a dream project,” Rockwell told Charlie Rose in an interview last summer. In the theater today, he points out his favorite details of the completed space. To him, it’s the many seating options which offer flexibility and give attendees different ways to be in the room. He also loves that the audience will walk through the scaffolding of the stage as they enter. “You actually see the underside of the building,” he says. “It looks the way buildings do when they have scaffolding around them. It gives a sense of spontaneity. As you approach, you see how it was built.”
It is also exciting that the theater can be dissembled, stored and reassembled in future years, furniture included.
Above, watch a timelapse of this build. Below, lots more photos.