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EMPAC
Grimshaw Architects

November 10, 2008 /

Troy, NY, USA

empac_1.jpgPhoto: Chuck Choi

The new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is located on the edge of the Rensselaer campus overlooking the city of Troy.

EMPAC is a platform for performance and research incorporating four distinct and specialized venues under one roof: an acoustically optimized 1,200 seat Concert Hall, a 400 seat Theater, and two black box studios created for flexible use by artists and researchers. Also provided are artist-in-residence studios, audiovisual production and post production suites, audience amenities, and student and support facilities.

A center for artists, scientists, and engineers to come together to pursue discovery at the nexus of the real and virtual worlds.

/President Shirley Ann Jackson

So that the traditional and the experimental may be seen as yoked together yet distinct, Grimshaw arranged the concert hall and atrium axially with the main entrance in a linear sequence on the north side of the building, while the studios and theater form an adjacent sequence on the south.

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Photo: Chuck Choi
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Photo: Chuck Choi
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Photo: Chuck Choi

A conceptual dialogue was then initiated between these two sequences by seeing the Concert Hall manifested as the physical presence of an object in space, while the Theater and studios represent the physical absence of discovered voids within a solid.

Because the main entrance is at hilltop level, close to the roof, while the volume of the Concert Hall is fitted into the slope below, a large "found space" opens up between the two. Upon entering the building, visitors find themselves at the top of the Atrium and main circulation area, looking down at the exterior of the concert hall: a curved hull wrapped in solid cedar planks.

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Photo: Kristen Richards
empac_6.jpg
Photo: Chuck Choi
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Photo: Chuck Choi

Access to the Concert Hall is provided via elevated walkways that span the atrium like gangplanks. The entire hull of the Concert Hall is contained within the Atrium, allowing public circulation all around it.

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Photo: Kristen Richards

This use of the topography also creates vistas over Troy toward the Hudson River, as seen from the campus approach and from major visitor spaces within the building.

The entire north facade of the building is a glass curtain wall, providing transparency between the EMPAC interior and the city of Troy. The glass wall allows daylight to flood the atrium, augmented by a halo skylight around the top of the concert hall that washes the cedar hull with the changing light of the day. By night, the wood hull is lit up from within the building and creates an iconic external identity that can be seen from distance.
The curtain wall features mullions that carry heated water to insulate the space from the Northern New York winter.

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Photo: Chuck Choi

Designed to be a first-class venue for symphonic music, yet equally capable of accommodating jazz, amplified music, presentations, film, and dance with electronically generated sound and video projection, the Concert Hall is configured traditionally in a "shoe box" format: as a long, narrow room of wood and masonry construction.

The floor and lower walls are all finished in maple, while the upper walls are clad in a combination of precast acoustic panels made of gypsum and precast stone. The room is slightly convex in form to maximize acoustic diffusion.

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Photo: Chuck Choi

The ceiling is made of panels of fabric less than one millimeter thick, supported on a delicate web of stainless steel cables. The fabric was specially selected and woven for EMPAC and is optimized for gentle reflectivity to high-frequency sound and increasing transparency to mid- and low-frequency sound, providing acoustic support to the musicians and audience while allowing the volume above the ceiling to generate reverberance. The ceiling panels form a convex shape overall and exhibit a gently glowing surface when illuminated.

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Photo: Kristen Richards

The Theater is equipped to the highest standards available to professional theater companies and offers an extraordinary resource for Rensselaer's experimental artists and student performers. The Theater can be used with or without its orchestra pit. Movable seating at the parterre level, along the sides, allows artists to configure the theater as a proscenium space or to extend the playing area along the sides of the audience.

The framing of the side galleries accommodates the attachment of projection screens and loudspeakers, allowing the audience to be immersed in virtual environments. Finished with maple floors and high-quality plaster walls, the theater has a slightly less formal treatment than the concert hall, so that its architectural presence can recede when the stage lights come up.

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Photo: Kristen Richards

Studio 1 is a true "black box" venue with minimal architectural finish, well suited for audio and music but optimized for scientific visualization, multi-screen and immersive performances, and dance. The walls are composed of adjustable acoustic wall diffusion panels and are also painted matte black.

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Photo: Kristen Richards

Studio 2 is a smaller sibling of Studio 1, and while being well suited for dance and visual presentations, it is optimized for music recitals and recording and therefore has a "lights on" architectural character rather than being a black box. Studio 2 is finished with a resilient maple floor and ivory colored adjustable acoustic wall diffusion panels.

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Photo: Kristen Richards

From an engineering and technological standpoint, EMPAC is state-of-the-art. Each of the contiguous spaces is built in acoustic isolation from one another. The HVAC system, virtually silent to preserve the integrity of performances and research, uses displacement ventilation to push air through registers under the seats.
The massive 20,000-square-foot glass curtain wall features mullions that carry heated water to insulate the space from the Northern New York winter. This is the first time that this technology has been adopted in the United States.

Linked to the university's powerful supercomputer (the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, CCNI), which will enable complex modeling and visualization, EMPAC will be a platform for the Rensselaer campus, its academic partners, and visiting artists from around the globe to experiment in critical fields.

The design team is submitting the project for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and seeking a Silver rating.

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Drawing courtesy Grimshaw Architects
Plan Level 5 (café, concert hall orchestra seating)


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Drawing courtesy Grimshaw Architects
Plan Level 7 (entrance level, concert hall balcony seating)


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Drawing courtesy Grimshaw Architects
North - South Section

Facts about EMPAC

Total area:

221,200 ft2
Concert Hall: 11,500 ft2 (seating 1,200)
Theater: 4,500 ft2 (seating 400)
Studio 1: 3,500 ft2
Studio 2: 2,500 ft2
Rehearsal Studio: 1,500 ft2

Architects:
Grimshaw Architects

Project Partners:

Vincent Chang
Sir Nicholas Grimshaw
Mark Husser
Andrew Whalley

Project Team:

Simon Beames
Shane Burger
David Burke
Demetrios Comodromos
Chris Crombie
Nikolas Dando-Haenisch
Chris Duisberg
Matt Eastwood
Paulo Faria
William Horgan
Kirsten Lees
Melissa Lim
Theo Lorenz
Junko Nakagawa
Michael Pawlyn
Juan Porral

Architect of Record:
Davis Brody Bond Aedas

Partners-in-Charge:

J. Max Bond Jr., FAIA / William Paxson, AIA

Project Manager:

Ernesto Bachiller, AIA

Project Team:

Bruce Dole
Jon Edelbaum
Dean Ficek
Steven J. Fischer
AIA, Robert Halverson
Fernando Hausch-Fenn
Nathan Hoyt, AIA
Fareh Garba
Richard Klibschon
Belinda Len
Ying Li
Marc Massay
Donald Nicoulin
Glenn O'Neill
Danny Papajic
Oliver Sippl
Mayine Yu
Dohhee Zhoung

Engineering Consultant:
Buro Happold
Craig Schwitter, Partner-in-Charge Structural Engineering
Denzil Gallagher, Partner-in-Charge of MEP Engineering

Electrical Engineer:

Buro Happold and Laszlo Bodak Engineering

LEED Consultant:

Buro Happold and Turner Construction Company

Acoustician:

Kirkegaard Associates (Chicago, IL)

Photographed by Chuck Choi and Kristen Richards

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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