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BCC Ruling No. 97-62-604

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IN THE MATTER OF Subsection 24 (1) of the Building Code Act, 1992.

AND IN THE MATTER OF Sentence,,, and of Regulation 61, as amended by O. Reg. 400/91, 158/93, 160/93, 383/94, 20/95 and 395/96 (the "Ontario Building Code").

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Mr. Chris Carsten, Project Manager, Famous Players Inc., 146 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Mani Navabi, Chief Building Official, City of Vaughan, Ontario, concerning whether the proposed cinema seating design, especially regarding the number of seats per row and aisle configuration, provides sufficiency of compliance with Sentences,,, and of the Ontario Building Code at the Famous Players, 19 Plex Theatre, Vaughan, Ontario.


Mr. Chris Carsten, Project Manager
Famous Players Inc.
Toronto, Ontario


Mr. Mani Navabi
Chief Building Official
City of Vaughan


Ms. Susan Friedrich (Chair)
Ms. Lesia Beznaczuk
Mr. Douglas Clancey


Toronto, Ontario


December 18, 1997 and February 6, 1998


February 17, 1998


Mr. Jonathan Rubes
Leber/Rubes Inc.
Toronto, Ontario
Agent for the Applicant

Mr. Mani Navabi
Chief Building Official
City of Vaughan
The Respondent


  1. The Hearing

With the consent of the parties, this application was heard together with two other applications involving the Applicant (the other rulings are 97-61-603 and 97-63-605).

After the first day of the hearing, the Commission requested the Applicant to provide information concerning a time-based egress analysis of the proposed cinema seating design as well as other egress issues. The hearing resumed on February 6, 1998.

  1. The Applicant

Mr. Chris Carsten, Project Manager, Famous Players Inc. has applied for a building permit under the Building Code Act, 1992 to construct a new movie theatre complex containing 19 individual cinema auditoriums at the Famous Players 19-Plex Movie Theatre, Vaughan, Ontario.

  1. Description of Construction

The Applicant proposes to construct a new movie theatre building complex containing 19 individual cinema auditoriums. The structure is described as 2 storeys in building height and is constructed of noncombustible construction. It is equipped with a sprinkler system and fire alarm system. The building is classified as having a Group A - Division 2 major occupancy.

The Applicant is proposing seating and aisle configurations, as well as egress arrangements that vary from traditional seating layouts. Specifically, the Applicant intends to; 1) configure the seating to allow more than 16 seats per row under certain conditions, 2) base the width of the aisles on the total occupant load served, 3) base the width of the means of egress (doors, stairs and ramps) on the total occupant load served and 4) create dead-end aisles serving seating rows that may exceed 6 m in length also under certain conditions. Collectively, this proposed cinema design is known as the "stadium style".

The proposed cinemas vary in size, with occupant loads ranging from approximately 100 to 550. The total occupant load of the building is projected to be roughly 5,000 persons. All seats in the cinemas are to be fixed. The building housing these cinemas conforms with all other provisions of the Ontario Building Code.

  1. Dispute

The issue at dispute between the Applicant and Respondent is whether the proposed seating and aisle configurations and egress provisions provide sufficiency of compliance with Sentences,, (3), (4) and (5) of the Ontario Building Code.

Sentence requires that an aisle be located not more than 7 seats away from any seat. Including the two middle seats in a row this means that a row of seats served by an aisle at either end cannot be more than 16 seats. Article also allows a seating configuration known as "continental seating" in which 100 seats are allowed in a row provided there are egress doorways at both ends of the row and that each doorway serves not more than 3 rows of seats. Sentence (4) of Article also provides for alternative forms of seating than the traditional or continental style provided that the standard of safety is not reduced and the egress time is not increased. The Applicant intends to demonstrate that the stadium style of seating, which in some cases contains more than 16 seats per row, can conform to the Ontario Building Code under Sentence

A second area of dispute is the egress facilities. This issue involves both the requirements for the width of the aisles in the direction of egress travel (Sentence and of the width of the aisles at their termination point or means of egress, either a cross aisle, foyer or exit (Sentence Sentence uses the minimum clear width criteria set out for aisles in Sentence and requires that the width be increased by 25 mm for each metre of distance travelled toward the termination point, as measured from the farthest point of the aisle. Sentence stipulates that the means of egress from an aisle, or aisles, be as wide as the widest aisle, plus 50 per cent of the total width of the other aisles served. The proposal put forth is to base both of these widths on the occupant load, with the aisle widths maintaining at least the minimum standards described in (The minimum clear width standards required in Sentence are 1,100 mm, or 750 mm when serving 60 seats or less, and 900 mm when serving seats on one side only.)

Also at issue is the length of dead-end aisles. Sentence states that dead-end aisles cannot be more than 6 m in length. The subject proposal provides four conditions, including increasing the clear width of a row by a formula of 6.1 mm for each seat beyond 16 seats as necessary to travel to an alternative aisle up to a maximum of 550 mm, which if all conditions were met, would allow the dead-end aisle length to be increased.

  1. Provisions of the Ontario Building Code

Sentence Seats

(2) Except as provided in Sentence (3), aisles on the main floor and in balconies shall be located so that there are not more than 7 seats between any seat and the nearest aisle.


(2) The minimum clear width of aisles shall be not less than 1 100 mm (3 ft 7 in), except that the width is permitted to be reduced to not less than

(a) 750 mm (2 ft 6 in) when serving not more than 60 seats, and
(b) 900 mm (2 ft 11 in) when serving seats on 1 side only.

(3) Except in the case of bleacher seats, the minimum clear width of aisles referredto in Sentence (2) shall be measured at the point farthest from an exit, cross aisle or foyer and shall be increased in width 25 mm (1 in) for each metre of distance toward the exit, cross aisle or foyer.

(4) Aisles shall terminate in a cross aisle, foyer or exit, and the width of such cross aisle, foyer or exit shall not be less than the required width of the widest aisle plus 50 per cent of the total required width of the remaining aisles that it serves.

(5) Dead end aisles shall be not more than 6 m (19 ft 8 in) in length.

  1. Applicant's Position

The Applicant submitted that the proposed stadium style cinema design provides sufficiency of compliance with the above cited Ontario Building Code provisions.

Regarding the number of seats in a row served by an aisle at both ends, the Applicant is proposing that limit may exceed 16 provided that; the minimum clear width of the row is 400 mm, that the number of seats in the row does not exceed 100, that the aisles serving the rows do not exceed a dead-end length of 6 m (except as permitted under their proposal to increase dead-end aisles), and that the travel distance from the most remote seat does not exceed 30 m as measured to a doorway or vomitory. The Applicant argued that stadium style seating provides an equivalent level of safety to, and better egress time than continental style seating. They noted that the maximum travel distances to exits in both seating styles is approximately 30 m, but that the doorway widths in the stadium style are slightly larger per person (6.1 mm compared to 6.07 mm). The Applicants also pointed out that the aisle width required in continental seating would result in an exit factor of 7.3 mm per person. Calculating the aisle widths on the basis of total occupant load as is done in the stadium style would result in wider aisles and would therefore achieve a faster flow rate. As well, they note that the occupant flow in stadium style seating would also be faster due to the formula spacing the seats in the rows which allows for a wider row than the 400 mm called for in continental seating.

For these reasons, the Applicant contends that the stadium style seating configuration complies with Sentence and is therefore an equivalent to the continental style of seating as described in Sentence and provides sufficiency of compliance with Sentence

Concerning the egress facilities, the Applicant argues that by basing the widths of aisles and means of egress on the occupant load, more accurate standards are realized than the arbitrary standards found in Sentences and (4). Using, for example, which requires an increase in aisle width of 25 mm per metre distance travelled results in both unnecessarily wide aisles in some circumstances, while in other instances, especially large theatres, it produces aisles that are too narrow. The same is true for the width of the means of egress. The Applicant argues that the current Ontario Building Code standards make confusing distinctions between rooms that have fixed seating or not. By setting the requirements at 6.1 mm per person of occupant load a simplified standard emerges based on the true performancedemanded of the means of egress. It is by using this standard that the Applicant argues that some of the smaller cinemas do not require a second exit door.

On the issue of the dead-end aisles, the Applicant is also proposing that their length may exceed 6 m provided that; the minimum clear width of the row is 400 mm, the width of the row is increased by 6.1 mm for each seat beyond 16 seats as necessary to travel to an alternate aisle up to a maximum of 550 mm, and that the travel distance from the most remote seat does not exceed 30 m as measured to an exit doorway. The Applicant argues that these conditions take into consideration if for some reason an aisle becomes inaccessible, the occupants can travel through any row of seats to reach an alternate aisle. For example, these criteria allow for a wider row, if in that row it is necessary to pass more than 7 seats to reach another aisle. As well, using these standards the maximum width of a row could be as much as 550 mm, which would permit occupants to exit in single file.

The Applicant points out that the total travel distance from the most remote seat will not exceed 30 m. In fact, the proposed egress of these dead-end aisles compares favourably with continental seating since, as they contend, the length of travel is the same or better, the rows and aisles would be wider, and there would be a choice to reach alternative doorways to exit the cinema.

In response to the Commission's request, the Applicant also submitted a time-based egress analysis that measured the length of time it would take to exit the proposed cinemas. This study, consistent with the Applicant's entire proposal, was based on a comparison to continental-style seating, which is an Ontario Building Code complying seating configuration. The study examined the three areas (rows, aisles and doorways) that individuals must travel through to reach the egress doorway. The Applicant's analysis showed that it would take 2.48 minutes to exit from a continental-style cinema, with the aisle being the area with the slowest flow time. For the proposed stadium-style seating, which the Applicant is proposing 100 seats in a row (although the proposals at hand have a maximum of 35 seats per row), the report demonstrated that the egress time, at 2.05 minutes, would be faster than in continental seating. The area of slowest flow time in stadium seating was the doorway. But as the Applicant noted, even the flow time through this door is faster than in the continental style.

  1. Chief Building Official's Position

The Respondent submitted that the proposed seating configurations in all of the cinemas are not in accordance with the Ontario Building Code. In particular, they note three main areas in which the proposed seating does not comply with the Ontario Building Code. First, the number of seats in a row is, in some cases, up to 29, which exceeds the maximum of 16 set out in Sentence Secondly, the dead end aisles are between 8 and 11 m long, which extends beyond the maximum of 6 m found in Sentence Thirdly, the aisle widths are not increased by 25 mm per metre towards the exit, cross aisle or foyer as per Sentence

The Respondent presented their own time-based egress analysis for small, medium and largecinemas, making a comparison to both conventional Ontario building Code complying seating and differently configured continental-style seating. (In their view, the Applicant's egress analysis was too simplistic and that the comparison to the continental style, with its 100 seats in a row was unrealistic.) Their analysis demonstrated that the egress time from small, medium and large cinemas with conventional-style seating would be faster than the proposed seating arrangement. In their analysis of the continental style, the Respondent used a model they felt was more realistic. Instead of 100 seats in a row, which they argued no cinema would have, they created (in the large example) a cinema with 22 rows (exactly the same as the Applicant's large cinema example) each having 26 seats. The same re-configuration was done for medium and small cinemas. Their study found that the flow rate and egress time of the modified continental-style seating was significantly lower than the proposed model presented by the Applicant.

For these reasons the Respondent was of the position that the subject proposal, with its occupant load-based approach, provides alternative measures of Ontario Building Code compliance that reach substantially beyond their jurisdiction. In their view, the stadium-style approach to cinema seating design is an entirely new system of egress from a room with fixed seating that is currently not recognized under the Ontario Building Code. It is therefore their position that they do not have the authority to approve these aspects of this project.

  1. Commission Ruling

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that the Applicant's proposal has not demonstrated sufficiency of compliance with Sentences,,, and of the Ontario Building Code.

  1. Reasons

1)Inconsistent evidence was presented by the Applicant and one of the Respondents with respect to exiting times and flow rates.

2)The information provided did not substantiate the basis for sufficiency of compliance. Convincing evidence was not provided that the proposed cinema design would not result in an increase in egress time.

3)No documentation was presented with respect to real life case studies or examples of similarly constructed theatres comparing flow patterns, flow rates, egress times, etc., that may have assisted the Commission members to assess the inconsistencies in the evidence presented.

4)The issue presented is a significant and complex one, it is the opinion of the Building Code Commission that the issue would be better dealt with as an Ontario Building Code amendment.

Dated at Toronto this 17th day in the month of February in the year 1998 for application number 1997-74.

Ms. Susan Friedrich, Chair

Ms. Lesia Beznaczuk

Mr. Douglas Clancey