Experimental Media and Performing Arts CenterEdit profile
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is one of America’s leading research universities. Its new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is a building for developing and experiencing innovative artistic and scientific work via seeing, hearing and perceiving movement in space. It acts as both a traditional music, dance and drama environment and as a digital laboratory for the creation and representation of new forms of media. Grimshaw was selected by RPI in June 2001, having won an invited design competition organized by the university’s school of architecture. The brief - calling for a 1200-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theatre, two adaptive environment black box studios, four artists-in-residence studios, a dance studio, audio and video recording studios and a campus radio station – spelled out a demanding combination of international quality natural room acoustics and state of the art digital technology. The design was called upon to support high definition audio and video in practically every usable space in the building. The steeply sloped site presented technical and planning challenges but also created dramatic architectural opportunities. The entrance to EMPAC is at the highest level, from where building users descend through the atrium on successive cascading foyers down to a mid-level café nestled into the hillside. The atrium functions as the social hub of the building and is dominated by the imposing form of the concert hall, which is encased in a curved shell of Western Red Cedar planks. This cedar hull provides a practical envelope for the circulation corridors, electrical rooms and numerous mechanical ducts that snake around the concert hall between its inner and outer carcasses, whilst reconciling those practical necessities with an important early architectural concept of evoking the craftsmanship and lasting tactile qualities of a wood bellied stringed instrument. Room shape Internally, the concert hall assumes the basic proportions and physical volume of many of the great concert halls of the late 19th Century such as the Musikverein in Vienna. Designed in collaboration with renowned concert hall acoustician Larry Kirkegaard, the room is optimised in its native configuration for romantic era classical music but it is imbued with enough versatility and variable acoustic technology to comfortably accommodate film, dance, jazz and amplified music events. It has 1200 seats in front of the concert platform, with additional seats forming a choir section around the rear of the platform. There is a gallery section flanking each long side of the room and a single large balcony. Ceiling The fabric ceiling is a world-first of its type, with a radial array of specially woven Nomex panels that are tuned to reflect high frequency sound – critical for musical clarity – whilst being completely transparent to low frequency sound – important for reverberation time and musical warmth. The ceiling thus provides proximate high frequency musical support for musicians and audience without obstructing the passage of bass frequencies to the attic volume immediately above it, allowing the generation of a warm, reverberant acoustic character in what is otherwise perceived to be a modestly sized room. Walls The upper side walls are clad in extremely heavy precast panels, made with a crushed limestone aggregate. Each panel is cast with an elliptical acoustic feature which is either a depression or a protrusion, and organised in a pseudo-random array to gently diffuse sound through the upper volumes of the room. The panels are illuminated from below by a linear array of dimmable LED uplighters. The gallery walls are slightly concave in plan form therefore require more aggressive diffusive treatment than the upper walls. The panels here are made of glass fibre reinforced gypsum and dimpled to diffuse mid to high frequency music. The walls in the lower audience areas are clad in horizontal bands of acoustically profiled maple planks separated by a thin ribbons of wenge. Seats The maple and leather seats for the concert hall were specially designed for the project and were the end result of a search for the optimal combination of comfort, acoustic response and fabrication quality. Working together with Poltrona Frau, Billings Jackson, Kirkegaard and Fisher Dachs Associates, Grimshaw led the development of a seat that far exceeds the performance of other price-comparable seats on the market. Silent ventilation The room is served by an underseat displacement ventilation system that provides cool air and very high quality patron comfort at inaudible loudness levels, allowing recording to be carried out in the room while the system is running. The room is designed to the acoustic quietness rating of RC-15. EMPAC was designed from the outset to meet LEED Silver Certification and be a world-class performing arts venue that provides the highest standards of acoustics and human comfort while using primary energy and construction materials as efficiently as possible for a building of its type. Completed in October of 2008 at a cost of $200 million, EMPAC provides an innovative and inspirational new facility for the Rensselaer campus, the New York region, and the international community for the arts.