Our 220,000 square-foot building is a signature work of architecture that brings together four main venues as well as many smaller studios and lab spaces under one roof. All can be used independently and simultaneously, allowing us to present events, host student gatherings, and dedicate space to research and residencies – all at one time. The building includes many firsts and exceptional attributes in the fields of acoustics, structural integrity, theatrical presentation, and digital media. High-bandwidth computer, audio and video networks create a technical infrastructure unlike any other performing arts centers. And, when linked to Rensselaer’s CCNI supercomputer, our superb venues provide opportunities for research that surpass those of most other media research centers.

Selected Building Press

2009.02: CHRONOGRAM — CHRONOGRAM Magazine: Totally Wired

2008.11.10: — profile of EMPAC

2008.10.09: New York Times — A New Concert Hall Plays Up the Sound and Celebrates the Science | pdf

History, Design, + Construction

In March 2001, Rensselaer initiated a competition by inviting four of the world’s leading architects to submit a design. A distinguished jury selected Grimshaw, a London-based firm founded by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, whose work is characterized by spatial and organizational clarity, flexibility, innovation, and a rigorous approach to detail. Grimshaw’s emphasis on the research and application of new materials and construction techniques is amply demonstrated in EMPAC.

Design and construction required the collaboration of experts and firms in a variety of disciplines including:

  • Buro Happold (Structural & Service Engineer)
  • Kirkegaard Associates (Acoustician)
  • Fisher Dachs Associates (Theatre Consultant)
  • Turner Construction Company (Construction Manager)
  • Davis, Brody, Bond LLP as the Architect of Record

Groundbreaking took place on September 17, 2003, and we opened to the public on October 3, 2008 with a three-week inaugural festival.


The building embodies a number of design and construction innovations. An extraordinary baseline of quiet has been achieved through acoustic separation—literally a space between the walls and floors of each venue—to prevent conduction of noisy vibrations. To further cushion vibrations, parts of the building sit on springs embedded in the foundation. The entire structure is secured by 215 cable anchors that reach deep into the hillside’s bedrock, making it one of the most seismically secure buildings in the region.

Room Acoustics and Background Noise

From 2011–16 Acoustician Zachery Belanger created a report on the operational state of the building titled: Room Acoustics and Background Noise at EMPAC. The report is available publicly to read. » Read More

Construction Timelapse

Public Spaces + Studio Beta

Our multi-tiered lobby and cafe are flooded with natural light from the grand staircase’s ninety-foot high glass wall and the skylight that encircles the concert hall. The enormous glass north wall has heated fluid circulating through its frame to prevent condensation and allow for clear views. As a result, the café and lobby form an attractive campus social space. In addition to the major venues, we have several studios and workspaces for residencies by artists, scholars and researchers. Studio Beta is a rehearsal and performance space particularly suited to use by student groups.

Concert Hall

The concert hall combines the outstanding acoustics, refined materials, and comfort of great concert halls of the past with the flexibility and technology of the 21st-century. The hall’s superior acoustics come from a number of innovations. Convex walls and other shaped surfaces allow performers or loudspeakers to be anywhere in the hall, redefining the notion that music comes only from the stage. A fabric ceiling was developed for the first time ever for both for its acoustic and aesthetic properties. Air rises quietly from under the seats rather than being forced down by noisy fans. Visually, staging elements or screens, projectors, and platforms can be flown anywhere in the hall; high-definition video can be projected on the 56’ wide screen, and uncompressed video and audio recording over fiber cables in possible.


The theater incorporates theatrical technology and capabilities that were previously found only in the most advanced stage spectacles. The sixty-foot flytower (the space directly above the stage, which itself is 80’ by 40’) allows for scenery, screens, lights etc. to be flown in and out. Computer-controlled rigging means that anything – props, projectors, or people – can be flown (and controlled by computer in real-time, a first in theater technology) throughout the stage space. The theater is as quiet as a recording studio and has the technological infrastructure of an HD video studio. The low stage allows for tangible immediacy between audience and performers.

The Studios

The Goodman Studio/Theater and studio 2 are exceptionally versatile spaces for the integration of digital technology with human expression and perception (sometimes referred to as “multi-modal environments.”). Catwalks and control rooms are located above and outside the studios to allow for completely unencumbered space, and for the projection of lights and images virtually anywhere in the volume of the studios. Acoustic wall tiles offer a completely novel approach to the acoustics of immersive sound environments. Both studios are equally quiet and highly networked, rewarding audiences and supporting experimentation by artists and researchers alike.