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The Abacus seat: an expert in extreme conditions

For a decade, fans and stadium owners around the world have appreciated Abacus, the flagship stadium seat from Forum Seating for its comfort, durability and ease of installation. Its designer Rebecca Stewart of the Arup studio tells us how she created the indestructible and versatile seat.

Do you remember first seeing the Abacuses installed in a stadium?


Of course! A decade ago, they were delivered to one of the stands of a stadium in Dublin. Arranged in rows, they looked completely different from the single seats we had tested in the laboratory. I walked around the stand and looked at every detail of both the Abacuses and the mounting beams. The seats were very uniform, not a seat back or tip up out of line. I remember thinking that it was exactly how Forum Seating and I had imagined them.

Rebecca Stewart is a designer for the highly regarded international consultancy Arup. She has graduated from design-related studies at the University of Bristol, the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College of London. She gained her professional experience working for Ford and Aston Martin.

So how did you imagine them?

Our goal was to design a ‘global seat’ – this is precisely how it was phrased in the preliminary guidelines. Forum Seating had already completed its first stadium projects. More were coming, which could potentially help the brand expand its business globally. The brand was hoping for contracts from various parts of the world, which meant the seat had to work well in extremely different climates. One region would have heat, dust storms and enormous UV radiation, while elsewhere we had to reckon with the seat being lashed with snow and exposed to severe frosts for a part of the year. But there was more to the challenge. In this industry, being ‘global’ also meant the ability to rapidly adjust an auditorium to different types of events: a football match on one day, a rugby game on the next one and a huge concert a day later.

Spectators tend to be accompanied by strong emotions during all of these event types.

Myself, I am not a hardcore fan but I do watch major games and I get excited. I realize that real fans get way, way more excited. When their favorite team scores a goal or points, they just cannot control the explosion of joy and they jump around the stands, including the seats. This is exactly the kind of situation when seats get damaged, which is why durability was crucial for the Abacus. To prepare for other circumstances too, we actually subjected the seat to extreme testing: we tried to tear it out from the stand, we hit it with a hammer and even torched it with a burner. It passed every test, so it earned the reputation of being an ‘indestructible’ seat.

Can such high strength go hand in hand with comfort?

It has to! In recent years, the stadium business has grown incredibly and facility owners today just have to ensure high quality and comfort for event participants sitting in the seats for both long and short periods of time The Abacus has performed this function extremely well, which is proven by the fact that it has been installed in as many as five venues for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This event is setting new standards in the organisation and modernity of stadiums, and our seat has turned out virtually unrivalled, even though a decade has passed since its premiere.

In your opinion, why is that?

The durability and comfort I mentioned before are its great strengths. On top of that, there is the simple installation and the ability to rapidly change stand configuration, if necessary. I kept that in mind throughout the development process of Abacus. We managed to create a seat mounted directly onto a beam, and the system actually consists of three parts only, which reduces installation time in the stadium to a minimum. Stadium managers value this very highly.

Abacus’s design has also been appreciated by experts. The seat has won the prestigious FX Award.

An industry award is always an amazing distinction, of course, it confirms that the design is good amongst its piers. But the real test takes place every day in the many stadiums where the Abacus has been installed. When I hear from people running those venues that the seat is very durable, so they don’t need to replace it, the mounting system saves them a lot of time and fans are happy with the comfort of sitting, then I am sure that we actually managed to design a ‘global’ seat.

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