This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol6", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
There is a large class of Assembly Halls the description of which is almost entirely covered by what has already been said in connection with Town Halls, especially when considering that of Walsall, which was illustrated in Volume IV. Large rectangular buildings, they are generally open on both sides for lighting, while it is preferable that they should be on entirely isolated sites, so as to secure rapid exit in case of panic or fire. The entrance is placed usually at the centre of one of the narrow frontages, through a large crush-room having cloak-rooms on either side, the main doorway to the hall being exactly opposite the street entrance; while it is a maxim in such buildings that all the doorways shall open outwards, being as a general rule fastened only by "panic bolts," which give way immediately on a bar being pushed which lies across the door about 3 feet from the floor. Direct passages, sometimes central only, and sometimes with others on either side, lead from end to end of the hall if the seating be fixed; but in most cases chairs are used, so that they may be cleared away and the whole space devoted to different purposes, as may be required. The far end from the entrance is given up to a platform with retiring-rooms for the performers, behind it or on either side, these being preferably arranged beyond a transverse corridor, so that the performers may meet behind the platform and confer before entering the platform. Special entrances for the performers are almost invariably provided, and, while their retiring-rooms are on the same level as the platform, there is very commonly a space below both for storage or for heating purposes, while this is sometimes utilised for a kitchen or even for a committee-room.
Buildings of this type are common, and range from the small vestry hall or parish-room, which accommodates some 200 persons, up to the large and important town hall or concert hall. Long halls of this character have, however, the disadvantage that they are frequently bad in their acoustic properties, while they add to this defect another in that it is difficult for the persons who sit anywhere near the back of the room to see what is going on because of those in front. It is therefore by no means infrequent for the larger halls to be planned on the horseshoe or theatre system, the great bulk of the audience being situated at approximately the same distance from the platform, and on rising galleries, so that all may see and hear with practically equal distinctness, a corridor at the back of the auditorium forming a kind of sounding board, and resulting in almost perfect acoustics, particularly if the section be such as to lead the voice uniformly all over, and not to waste it in a high roof, or to break it up amongst open timbering.
A fine example of this type is the new Central Hall of the Liverpool Wesleyan Mission, designed by Messrs. Bradshaw & Gass, of which a general view is given in Plate I., showing its architectural treatment and grouping, while a plan of its principal floor, that at the first-floor level, is illustrated in Fig. 1. It occurs on a somewhat restricted site, where two streets meet at an obtuse angle. Following what is the general custom with large buildings, the main axis is obtained by bisecting this angle, and off this axis the hall is planned. In its principal features it is in agreement with the general scheme of a longitudinal hall, except for the corridor behind the horseshoe arrangement of seats, which branches to right and left of a crush space at the landing of the main staircase. There is a main entrance at the floor level of the hall forming a corridor along the axis, but there are two other radial entrances off the corridor which can be approached either from the main staircase or from supplementary stairs at the corridor ends - or perhaps, more properly speaking, where the curved corridors join the straight corridors down either side, which lead at their extremities to vestries and to other entrances near the front of the auditorium. The central space of the hall is left open for movable seats, but the horseshoe back is arranged as a series of galleries with radiating passage ways to the entrances just mentioned, so that everyone seated on these galleries can have an unobstructed view of the stage, except such as are seated immediately behind the supporting piers to the gallery above. The hall narrows towards the stage, and is thus of the form which numberless experiments, from the times of the Greek theatre onwards, have shown to be the best for acoustic properties. Behind the platform there are retiring-rooms for performers, which communicate one with another and are reached on either side by special staircases. It is possible to pass direct from them either to the platform or to the hall, and indirectly by means of a few stairs to a classroom at the rear, or to vestries and other retiring-rooms - the term " vestry " being obviously used to mean any preparation room for the giving of performances, whether these be lectures, sermons, or concerts. The front of the building, hitherto undescribed, is given up to retiring-rooms approached both from the circular corridor and from the main staircase, and on one side to a small suite of offices for the committee and secretary, and on the other to the upper floors of shops and large tearooms, which it is intended to let off. The general scheme thus established on the first floor of horseshoe form, the space beneath the upper rows being utilised for cloak-rooms. The platform is also arranged with rising seats, having the upper rows just above the level of the bottom rows of the gallery; and the way by which this platform can be served, either from the floor of the hall as shown in Fig. 1 or from the gallery as shown in Fig. 2, and equally well from all the so-called vestries or retiring-rooms, is exceedingly clear, it being possible for persons to obtain easy access to the platform from all parts of the auditorium. Necessarily the staircases are continuous from top to bottom of the building, and the stairs are in short flights without winders, so as to afford the readiest possible means of exit in case of panic.
Fig. 1. Liverool Wesleyan Mission new central mau-renshaw street.
Fig. 2. Luiverpool Mission . new central mall-renshaw street.