EMPAC’s mission is to provide high quality space for innovative digital art to change perceptions about the nature of sound and vision. From the protruding, airship-like theatre floating inside the building to the catwalks to the contrast in materials, the arts center is a rich visual landscape. Inside there are five different performance venues: a 1,200-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, a black box studio, a white box studio and a dance studio. In addition, the facility houses audio and video editing suites, artists-in-residence studios and the campus radio station.
Built into a steep hillside overlooking the Hudson River, the building is partially below grade and emerges from the ground in an explosion of cross-grained wood and glass. Grimshaw designed the structure in accordance with their environmental management system and includes low energy and sustainable design. The north curtain wall utilizes the largest insulated glass panels as well as glycol-filled mullions used as a heating and condensation-elimination system in winter. The concert hall is clad in sustainably-harvested Western Red Cedar.
The site was landscaped for erosion control and planted with native trees and grass plantings. Visitors can easily access the site through public transportation and enjoy parking spots for carpools as well as some with electric vehicle charging stations. The roof harvests rainwater and is coated with a high albedo coating to reflect the sun’s energy. Lighting, ventilation and CO2 sensors monitor the space and adjust the HVAC and lighting to minimize energy.
Grimshaw’s New York team won an international design competition in 2001 to build the arts center, which was completed in 2008. On naming Grimshaw the competition’s winner, Alan Balfour, Dean of the School of Architecture and member of the jury committee, commented, “The distinction of the Grimshaw submission was in seeing the building as an ensemble of instrumental spaces defined by technology. This 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.”
Images ©Paul Rivera and Peter Aaron