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.

2010 Article: Scale, Senses, and the Creation of Meaning

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.

Listen to the Concert Hall

Did you know you can actually hear the acoustics of the concert hall online? in 2003 an advanced research project was undertaken by members of Rensselaers Architectural Acoustics graduate program to simulate the sounds of the hall from various locations and with many different instruments.

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.