Innovative in Form, Pioneering in Function, An Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Takes Shape at Rensselaer

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, London, Selected as Design Architect for Technologically Advanced Performance and Electronic Arts Facility

July 5, 2001

TROY, NY, July 5, 2001 - Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, today announced that the innovative, London-based architecture firm of Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners has been selected to design Rensselaer's new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.

Serving the campus, the region, and the international arts community, the building will provide five venues for performance-ranging from an elegant 1,200-seat auditorium to a suite of sophisticated experimental spaces-as well as audiovisual production studios, multimedia exhibition galleries, practice and rehearsal spaces, and facilities for artists in residence. As a performance venue, the center will welcome the world to the Rensselaer campus. As an operating program of the university, the center will support artistic performance as a site of new knowledge in many disciplines, from architecture to information technology, in a way that is unprecedented in the United States.

The $50 million project, encompassing approximately 160,000 square feet, is scheduled to break ground in spring 2002 and open in autumn 2003.

"On the one side, Rensselaer's faculty and students are at the leading edge of a number of technologies that have applications in the performing arts, or that are inspired by a researcher's interest in the arts," Dr. Jackson says. "On the other side, Rensselaer has a reputation as one of the most creative campuses in the world for the electronic arts. For these reasons, we want to create the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center as a nexus of technological and artistic innovation and optimized performance space."

"Our whole office is excited about this project," said Nicholas Grimshaw, chairman of Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. "We believe we can bring a European sense of structure and detail to this wonderful series of spaces. We want to design a recital hall that musicians will be drawn to from all over the world; an auditorium that will be renowned for the flexibility and range of its production facilities; and experimental performance spaces that will astound people by their technical versatility. The whole complex will also offer circulation and atrium spaces that will be a marvelous meeting place for the university and the community at large."

Design Concept: Advanced Engineering Meets Time-Honored Acoustics

As envisioned by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, the building will appear to be a "floating wafer" that extends the campus westward beyond the edge of a steep bluff. Visitors may walk out onto this roof structure to enjoy views out to Troy and the Hudson River beyond, and to visit exhibition galleries built into this level. Or, by passing down a ramp, visitors may enter the facility and the dramatic "found space" within.

To minimize the bulk that is necessary in any performing arts complex, the volumes for the 400-seat recital theater and 1,200-seat auditorium flow down and into the hillside, respectfully following the topography of the site. An ingenious structural system allows these big halls to be constructed as a pair of shells-one convex, one concave-suspended within the building envelope. Upon entering the building's atrium, visitors discover themselves at the top of a cavernous space, in which the shell of the larger auditorium hangs down like the hull of a ship, or the rounded belly of a stringed instrument. The shape was in fact inspired by the time-honored forms of violin-makers; and the device of flowing the large hall out of the hillside and suspending the smaller hall from a wishbone structure insulates them from external vibrations, as demanded by the principles of acoustic engineering.

To make the building energy efficient, facilities such as rehearsal spaces, audiovisual studios, and offices are located within a stepped linear wing that extends to the west of the campus. The north facade is a continuous glass wall, permitting unobstructed views inside and out and allowing the atrium to function as a winter garden.

Selecting the Architect

To select an architect for the facility, Rensselaer initially drew from a short list of 14 firms. Then they initiated an architectural competition in March 2001 among four distinguished firms: Davis Brody Bond, New York, NY, teaming with Thomas Leeser, London; Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, London; Morphosis Architects, Santa Monica, CA; and Bernard Tschumi Architects, New York, NY.

All finalists made presentations on June 14 before Rensselaer's jury committee and its external advisers: James H. Collins, Jr. President and CEO of Payette Associates; Bruce S. Fowle, Founder and Senior Principal of Fox & Fowle Architects; and K. Michael Hays, Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Adjunct Curator of Architecture at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Alan Balfour, Dean of the School of Architecture and member of the jury committee, commented that, "The distinction of the Grimshaw submission was in seeing the building as an ensemble of instrumental spaces defined by technology which seemed exactly appropriate to house the range of performances and stimulate new knowledge that Rensselaer will bring to the intersection of the arts with science and technology."

About Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners is perhaps best known for its design of London's International Terminal Waterloo (completed 1993), which received the President's Award for Building of the Year from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Fine Arts Commission/Sunday Times Building of the Year Award, and the Excellence in Design Award of the London chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Recent arts projects include a new building for the Royal College of Art in London, which features a major exhibition space; and the Caixa Galicia Art Foundation Building on the waterfront at La Corua, Spain, which includes an auditorium and lecture hall together with extensive galleries for works of art. Other notable projects include the Phase One redevelopment of London's Paddington Station (completed 1999) and The Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K. (completed 2001), which has created the world's largest greenhouse as a showcase for global biodiversity.

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners has an established office in the United States, where the firm's first American project, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is scheduled for completion in fall 2001. The firm is also involved in the design of the Miami Intermodal Center in Florida, a major transport interchange project due for construction in 2005. Rensselaer's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center is the first major performing arts project undertaken by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

About Rensselaer

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of America's leading research universities, with a student body of 5,000 undergraduates, 1,800 graduate students in residential programs, and 2,800 students in distance programs and at Rensselaer at Hartford. Rensselaer is known for providing an undergraduate education of undisputed intellectual rigor based on exceptional pedagogical innovation and has earned distinction in interactive learning and the application of information technology to education. Faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research in fields ranging from microelectronics to computational modeling and simulation, mathematical finance, advanced materials, environmental studies, lighting, and electronic arts. Fostering technological entrepreneurship, Rensselaer operates three business incubators, with a technology park that is home to some 50 companies.