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Spectator Seating

Spectator seating is more often associated with natatoria than with outdoor pools that are used primarily for recreation. Spectator seating is universally associated with competition in any sport. For swimming and water polo, the seating should be located with viewing from the side.  Likewise, the viewing of springboard and platform diving is preferred from the side, not head-on.

Seating locations vary.  Deck seating is usually found in small natatoria with short course pools.  Larger natatoria with diving platforms and long spans develop overhead clearances that will easily accommodate second floor gallery seating.  Sometimes budget or other influencing factors lead the designer to create mezzanine seating where the first row is 3 feet to 5 feet above the pool deck which improves the line-of-sight over deck seating but is not quite as desirable as gallery seating.  Like those sitting in deck seating, spectators in mezzanine seats can still have their view blocked by athletes and officials walking on the deck.  It is advantageous to have the spectators filter into the seating area from the top or through the middle.  By doing so, no walkway is required in front of the first row resulting in better sightlines - and possibly a smaller deck dimension.  A glass railing system is often selected to minimize obstruction of views.  End seats are sometimes provided when building configuration dictates and the primary racecourse is short course across the long course pool.  This scenario is potentially desirable at the university level to maximize seating in the vicinity of the main short course section.  In such venues, spectator experience of the short course area may take precedence over the 50-meter course.

A concourse above the seats and across the length of the spectator area and the moving of the restrooms to the rear of the gallery seats provides the following:

  • Improves the view of the spectators.
  • Eliminates the blocked view created by people walking back and forth in front of the spectators.
  • Avoids the spectators observing people coming and going to the restrooms, including the physically disabled who draw attention when simply moving among able-bodied people.
  • Requires an elevator.

Seating construction can vary.  Permanent seats are often considered the first choice due to easier housekeeping tasks and lower annual costs.  However, when other issues are considered such as first costs, convertible space, frequency of competitive events, emergency exit requirements, density of spectators and parking requirement ratios, a mixture of seat construction types are considered, i.e., retractable, temporary, and portable.  If spectators are to use deck seating, entrance to the facility should be established to limit foot traffic on the pool deck.

Retractable seating manufactured by Interkal (St Peter’s Rec Plex) and Hussey (University of Georgia) have been used successfully in natatoria.  However, neither manufacturer directly recommends their seating for chlorinated environments.  If these manufacturers are passed along to an architect, the conversation should always include this qualification.

Other factors that must be considered with spectator seating are approach, controlled access, traffic patterns that do not cross wet decks, ADA design issues, emergency exits and custodial implications and parking requirements.

A typical seat count for a short course (25 yard x 60 feet) natatorium is 100-250 seats.  Certain areas of the country have high school requirements that far exceed these numbers.

A long course pool (50 meters x 25 yards) that will host major competitions can require 1000 permanent seats plus 500 temporary seats.  A frame of reference follows  U.S. Division I universities with highly developed swimming and diving programs that wish to attract the national NCAA Championship meets frequently provide 1000 to 2000 seats made up of both permanent and temporary seats.  The U.S. Olympic Festival requirements were 2500 to 3000 seats prior to that event's demise.  At the top of the scale is the Olympic Venue for aquatic sports with a requirement of 15,000 to 20,000 seats, which includes up to 1/3 reserved for VIP’s, the Olympic family, and the media.

Those facilities, which will host multi-team meets, will usually require 250 to 500 seats. Since these events are infrequent, a combination of permanent and temporary seats is the most cost effective.  Some pools are in locales with many age group teams that want access for bigger meets.  These facilities can justify 500 – 1,000 combined seats.

United States Swimming spectator recommendations:

  • United States Swimming does not specify minimum seating requirements for hosting different levels of meets, but they do recommend the following:
    • USA Swimming Invitational level meets have a minimum seating recommendation of 400.
    • USA Swimming LSC Championships or Sectional level meets have a minimum seating recommendation of 600.
    • USA Swimming National level meets have a minimum seating recommendation of 1000.
  • USA Swimming is very careful with their wording so they do not limit the number of meets certain LSC’s can host.  Many areas hold mostly outdoor meets and can bring in temporary seating.

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