Rensselaer Unveils Its Plans For EMPAC

November 17, 2003

for immediate release

NEW YORK, NY, November 17, 2003

The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, today unveiled plans for the university's new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, EMPAC. Located on the campus of a distinguished technological research university, yet reaching out to an international artistic community, EMPAC combines an ambitious program with an extraordinary custom-designed building. These twin aspects of EMPAC have been conceived as one, to create unprecedented opportunities for artists and scientists, students, and audiences to encounter and influence one another.
"Today, more than ever, much of what is important and exciting in science and technology lies in interdisciplinary areas," Dr. Jackson stated. "EMPAC will help us to maximize Rensselaer's interdisciplinary potential, providing a platform where research and technology can interact with artistic creation and reflection. We aim to make EMPAC a prime intellectual force on the Rensselaer campus, a transforming presence in New York's Capitol Region, and a leading resource on the world's cultural scene."

The EMPAC program, which is already in operation, is being created by Director Johannes Goebel, who was previously director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at ZKM, the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. The 203,000 square foot, $142 million EMPAC building, scheduled for completion in late 2006 with an opening festival in spring 2007, is designed by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, London and New York—architects of the new Fulton Street Transit Center near the World Trade Center site in New York City—with architect of record Davis Brody Bond, LLP, New York.

"Our goal is to enable artists, engineers, and scientists to meet in such a way that they respectfully challenge and change one another, while building on the distinct characters of their disciplines," Johannes Goebel said. "EMPAC will supply links between science and engineering research on one side and the sensory impact of art on the other, between the human aspiration toward clarity and precision and the equally human experience, so often felt in art, of life as a stumbling quest for answers. By creating EMPAC, Rensselaer takes a position on culture, science, and society that places it, I believe, far ahead of any other private research university."

To make good on this program, Rensselaer is providing EMPAC with a unique building, offering facilities that can be found nowhere else under a single roof. The building will contain a wide and very flexible range of major venues—a 1,200-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, a 3,500-square-foot studio, and a 2,500-square foot studio—as well as suites for artists-in-residence, rehearsal spaces, and student and support facilities. All are designed and constructed to the highest professional standards to accommodate both the traditional performing arts and contemporary works that incorporate digital and other media; and all will be made available to artists-in-residence who work experimentally. Every program area—including the breathtakingly designed atrium—is designed so it can be used as a site for performance. All venues throughout the building are wired to production and post-production suites, which can receive sounds and images from every part of the building and can transmit sounds and images in turn.

According to Andrew Whalley, Director in Charge of the Grimshaw design team, "The EMPAC program poses a question: how to combine, in one building, the permanence of the traditional performing arts with the necessarily transient character of experimental media. Our solution is a scheme that shows them as yoked together yet distinct, within a building that draws its form directly from the topography. By fitting EMPAC into the slope of its hillside site, we conceal much of the bulk of the building, while at the same time revealing the venues inside, which are seen through glass curtain walls like objects in a display case."

The distinguished firm of Fisher Dachs Associates is serving as consultant to Rensselaer and Grimshaw for theater design. "The thing that excited me most about EMPAC, when I heard about it from Dr. Jackson, was the focus on the artists," said Joshua Dachs, Principal of Fisher Dachs Associates. "The EMPAC concept of simply inviting artists to come and take advantage of the technologies available at Rensselaer, and giving them space to work in, is very refreshing and forward thinking. For us, it has meant creating spaces that range from the informality of an artist's studio to a full-blown concert hall. Each space provides a different kind of working environment and different technical and acoustical resources, so artists will be able to create work at any scale they wish. I know of no institution like it."

Larry Kirkegaard, principal of the renowned firm of Kirkegaard Associates, which serves as acoustical consultant to the project, agrees that EMPAC is a one-of-a-kind facility. "EMPAC presents us with a unique challenge," he stated, "to meet extraordinarily high standards for some two dozen spaces, which may be used simultaneously and which must support the widest possible range of performances. The entire musical spectrum, from violin solos to yet-to-be-imagined computer-generated sonic worlds, will be composed and presented within EMPAC. The story is the same in terms of configuring the spaces: Rensselaer aims to support traditional presentations of music and theater, but also wants to be able to break down the distinctions between audience space and performer space. Our response has involved both perspiration and inspiration: pursuing a multitude of mundane yet critical details that will never be seen by the artists and the public, and also developing with Grimshaw such features as the elegant and innovative fabric ceiling for the concert hall."

Rensselaer expects to inaugurate the EMPAC building in spring 2007 with an extended festival of performances, discussions, lectures, and events, showing a full range of the EMPAC programs and the full capabilities of the building. Under Johannes Goebel's direction, EMPAC has already begun carrying out collaborations with other institutions, maintaining a residency program for artists and co-operating with the various departments at Rensselaer on lectures, symposiums, and workshops, so that the program will be fully operational by the time the building is finished.

ABOUT THE DESIGN TEAM

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners

Established in 1980 and now operating from seven offices worldwide, Grimshaw has amassed an international portfolio characterized by structural legibility and integrity. The firm has won more than 100 awards, confirming Grimshaw's reputation for design excellence based on quality, innovation, and a rigorous approach to detailing. Grimshaw is known for its innovative approach to new technologies and has been particularly successful in applying new building materials and structural solutions to 'traditional' building types.
Having made its name in the 1980s with a series of elegant and efficient industrial buildings for clients such as Herman Miller and Vitra, the practice has established itself in other sectors such as transport, offices, education, and the arts. Among its most notable successes have been the International Terminal at Waterloo Station, London (1993); The Eden Project Cornwall (2001), which has received more than 2 million visitors and 15 industry awards to date, and has been widely applauded for its positive impact on the local landscape and economy; and a new four-story building and restoration of five landmark buildings in the Georgian Spa quarter of Bath (2003). Notable recent commissions include the Ellipse building for the Royal College of Art, London; two projects in Germany, a headquarters building for KPMG in Berlin and a convention center in Hamburg; the firm's first Australian project, the new Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, which will transform the existing Spencer Street Station into a world-class transport interchange; and the Fulton Street Transit Center in New York City.

Grimshaw's interest in detailing and manufacturing techniques has been the impetus for three major retrospectives of the practice's work; Fusion, a touring industrial design exhibition; three monographs (published by Phaidon); and a comprehensive series of lectures. The practice's awards include the Royal Institute of British Architects 'Building of the Year Award' and the Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion award for European Architecture. Sir Nicholas Grimshaw has received the CBE (1993), the AJ Centenary Medal for Contribution to Architecture (1995), and, most recently, the knighthood.

Davis Brody Bond, LLP

Davis Brody Bond, LLP, among the nation's leading architectural design firms, is known for design excellence and innovative solutions to complex challenges. The firm's work encompasses university and cultural buildings, healthcare and research facilities, industrial buildings, corporate offices, and housing. As a New York City based firm, urban planning and design is a significant part of its practice. In recent years, Davis Brody Bond has worked on such diverse projects as the restoration and expansion of the New York Public Library, the expansion of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, new research buildings at Harvard University, and industrial facilities in the United States, Europe, and South America. In addition to the project at RPI, Davis Brody Bond is currently working on the campuses of Northwestern University, Tulane University, the University of Connecticut, and Vanderbilt University. The firm's work has been honored by more than 100 major design awards including the American Institute of Architects Firm Award, the highest honor given to an architectural practice. In 2000, the firm received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence for the design of U.S. Bureau of Census Data Processing Facility in Maryland.

Fisher Dachs Associates, Inc.

Fisher Dachs Associates (FDA) is one of the world's leading theatre planning and design consultants. The firm is recognized for its role in helping to plan and design, or renovate, some of the most significant and most imaginative performing arts spaces in North America. FDA's projects range from major urban complexes to intimate small repertory and community theatres. The firm's expertise encompasses planning and feasibility studies commissioned by theatres, symphonies, opera companies, and dance groups, to room and equipment design. FDA's recent clients include the Guthrie, Arena Stage and Alley theatres; Second Stage Theatre, in New York City; the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and major multipurpose performing arts centers throughout the United States. Theatres have been completed at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia universities and for more than 400 prestigious performing arts and entertainment entities. Founded by legendary Broadway lighting designer Jules Fisher, recently designed the theatre lighting sequences for the film Chicago, FDA is under the direction of Joshua Dachs, an architect and theatre planner.

Kirkegaard Associates

Kirkegaard Associates is one of the world's foremost acoustics consulting practices, providing comprehensive services in architectural acoustics, mechanical noise and vibration control, and audio and video systems design for clients seeking the highest quality in listening environments. The company has earned a reputation for excellence in the design of theaters and concert halls, churches, recording and broadcast studios, and many other acoustically sensitive environments in North America, Europe, the Far East and Australia. The firm's projects include new facilities such as Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Petronas Concert Hall in Kuala Lumpur, the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, Benedict Music Tent at the Aspen Music Festival, and the London Symphony Orchestra's St. Luke Centre. Notable remodeling projects have included Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, Royal Festival Hall and Barbican Concert Hall in London, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Carnegie Hall's post-remodeling improvements, and Meyerhoff Concert Hall in Baltimore. University projects include Sprague Memorial Hall at Yale University's School of Music, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and Lowell Hall at Harvard University.

ABOUT RENSSELAER

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of America's leading research universities, with a student body of 5,100 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 fifty companies.
For more information on Rensselaer, the public may visit the university's web site at www.rpi.edu. For more information on EMPAC, the public may visit www.empac.rpi.edu

For further press information:

Claire Whittaker
The Kreisberg Group, Ltd.
130 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
212.799.5515
claire@kreisberggroup.com

Jane Van Ryan
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street
Troy, NY 12180
518.276.2815
vanryp@rpi.edu