WQXR has the story behind the reason orchestras are laid out as they are today. Turns out it is a pretty new idea.
Why don’t the oboes and tubas sit in the front of the orchestra? Why don’t flutes and first violins swap positions, or — in what would be the coolest configuration, let’s be honest — bass trombones and contrabassoons sit right up front with the conductor? Why is there even a conductor at all?