Venues, Studios, and Spaces

EMPAC is an extraordinary instrument for artists and researchers to play, and audiences to experience. The Concert Hall, Theater, and two large studios bridge the potential of digital technology with the most refined details for acoustics, visual production, and performing arts.

By EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is where the arts, sciences, and technology meet under one roof and breathe the same air. Four exceptional venues enable audiences, artists, and researchers to inquire, experiment, develop, and experience the ever-changing relationship between our senses, technology, and the worlds we create around us.

All four venues were designed and equipped to support hearing, seeing, and moving to the same uncompromising standards. The two large studios and the Theater are as quiet as the Concert Hall (with a noise floor of RC8); all floors are resilient and good for dancing, with additional sprung dance floor elements to cover any area; silent theatrical lighting is available in all venues; computer-controlled rigging and flying, screens and projectors, loudspeakers, and more.

In addition to the general IT networks, all building spaces are networked via large scale digital matrices, separately dedicated to video, audio, or control signals for theatrical equipment to deliver reliable quality of service to any point in the building.

EMPAC: About building and program (2014-01) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC opened in October 2008, after eight years of planning, design, and construction.

The building contains a volume of five million ft3 / 140,000 m3, over a floor area of 220,000 sq. ft. / 20,000 m2.

North and south façades (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

On the left, EMPAC's north-facing glass façade reflects Rensselaer’s Folsom Library. On the right, the distinctly different south block of the building.

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw and the team of Grimshaw Architects on their design of EMPAC:

Grimshaw Architects: Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) (2016) by Sam HobkinsonEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Concert Hall behind glass curtain wall (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Light-flooded lobby spaces surround the four main venues—the Concert Hall, the Theater, and two large studios for production, research, and performance.

East entrance to main lobby (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC main entrance on campus level, with ticket lobby and two big, round entrances to the Concert Hall balcony.

Main lobby (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Main lobby information and ticket counter.

Lobby of main entrance at top of the hill (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Bridges leading from the main lobby to the Concert Hall balcony.

Top lobby level with mezzanine and café level below (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Campus-level lobby with mezzanine and café below.

Entrances to balcony and parterre seating of Concert Hall (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Entrances to Concert Hall balcony and parterre seating, as viewed from the mezzanine.

Main lobby skylight around the Concert Hall (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Main lobby, skylight circling around the Concert Hall.

Main lobby view down to café level (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

View from the main lobby to café level below.

Grand staircase along Concert Hall (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Grand staircase between north-facing glass façade and Concert Hall.

View up to Concert Hall entrances (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

View to Concert Hall entrances from the café.

Interstitial space between Concert Hall and south block (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

View down the south block from east to west with the Concert Hall exterior to the right and the corridors along the south block to the left.

Spine corridor (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

View looking east down "Spine Corridor" between Concert Hall and south block.

Exploded view of building (2009) by Grimshaw ArchitectsEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Exploded view of Concert Hall, Theater, and Studio 1 (Studio 2 not shown)

Location of venues and studios (2013)EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Venues and Spaces

Venue cross sections (2009) by Johannes Goebel, Grimshaw ArchitectsEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Cross Sections: The dashed lines show very high acoustical separation: Studio 2 has its own foundation. Studio 1 floats on springs. The Theater rests only on the building foundation. All venues are separated from other building structures around them by isolating gaps on each level. 

Venue specifications (2013)EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Concert Hall (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC Concert Hall

Architecture, Acoustics, Potential

Concert Hall (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Concert Hall is explicitly designed to accommodate sounds coming from anywhere throughout the space at equal quality, not just from the stage. Musicians or loudspeakers can be placed anywhere in the volume, providing audiences with "true surround localization" at the highest quality, while at the same time creating a balanced and refined sound field enveloping the audience.

Concert Hall view from balcony (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The acoustic ceiling is, up to now, unique in the world. Spanning the whole ceiling, it is made out of fabric that guides mid and high sound frequencies down to the audience area, and allows low frequencies to enter the three meter high volume above which are then reflected down from the concrete slab at the top of the hall.

Concert Hall – elliptical panels (2006) by Kirkegaard AssociatesEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The upper areas of the walls are covered by five different types of heavy, pre-cast stone modules. Their shape and distribution produces an exceptional sound clarity from anywhere in the hall. The upper walls are also slightly convex to contribute to the diffusion of sound.
 

Concert Hall with acoustic banners deployed (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Acoustic banners can be deployed across the all four upper walls, which allows the reverberation of the hall to change within the range of about one second. The banners can be set to different heights depending on the acoustic use — for instance, they are fully lowered for speech and highly-amplified music.

Concert Hall – displacement ventilation (2021) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Air rises quietly from under each seat.

The Concert Hall is very quiet. Equipment noise, like that stemming from air handling, transformers, or lighting, is so minimal that the softest sound can be heard throughout the venue. The noise floor is measured to be at RC 8. This same noise floor extends to the Theater and studios.

Concert Hall – catwalk system (2021) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A dense catwalk system extends above the fabric ceiling. It allows the installation or deployment of technical gear and includes patch panels distributed across the catwalks to connect directly the building-wide audio, video, control, and IT networks.

Concert Hall – chain hoist points (2021) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The dashed red lines are next to chains, which allow technicians to position anything anywhere in the 3D volume of the Concert Hall. 60 holes in the ceiling above the catwalks can be unplugged, with chain hoists placed one floor up above the holes, to lift and fly equipment in the hall.

Theater stage tower and audience seating, Peter Aaron / Esto, 2008, From the collection of: EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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View from stage to audience seating, with the stage tower height of 70' / 18m. The fly tower is equipped with computer-controlled rigging allowing three-dimensional interactive flight of people and objects.

In the 400-seat Theater, as with all the venues, sound, sight, and movement in space are each held to a high standard. Unlike in most theater spaces, the sound threshold is held to RC 8 (quietness level). This resulted in some extraordinary design measures, including a displacement ventilation system under each seat and “almost silent” winches equipping the stage house. The main objectives in the design were to create an intimacy between the audience and the performance, and to provide performers and artists with a full-size and amply-equipped stage house and fly tower, something rarely found in theaters with only 400 seats.

The Theater was designed with a reverberation time suited not only for speaking, but also for acoustic and amplified music and sound.

Theater (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The proscenium opening (between stage and house), traditionally solid and cut open to frame the performers behind, is all but eliminated. When open, the full width and practical height of the audience house extends visually onto the stage. It can also be closed to provide any size opening with curtains or a 56' / 17m projection screen, the focus of a high-resolution projector located in a separate projection room at the back of house. The screen is acoustically transparent so loudspeakers can be flown behind.

An orchestra pit in front of the stage (the circular area in front of the stage on the previous picture) can be raised to stage level and acts as a thrust stage well beyond the proscenium plane into the audience; it can be lowered to accommodate musicians or computer performers interacting with actors on stage; or it can be raised to audience level to accommodate additional rows of seating.

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Film shoot – Atlas Revisited with Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne. (2016) by David DeLaRosaEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Theater stage is equipped with computer-controlled rigging to fly any object, camera, light, or person on a three-dimensional path through the volume of the stage house. 

The 3200 sq ft / 300 sq m stage is used for extended development of new and experimental works.

Studio 1 (2008) by Paúl RiveraEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 1

Studio 2, Random Dance, Entity residency (2010) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2

Studios, cross section (2009) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


 

Studio 1 and Studio 2 are more than the usual “black box” studio theaters. They are designed, constructed, and equipped to the same level of quality as the Concert Hall or the Theater, serving human seeing, hearing, and moving in space, as well as providing a complex technological infrastructure. They are not “multi-purpose” spaces but provide uncompromising environments for each possible use.

Both studios have the quality of: a dance studio with resilient floors (and can be covered with sprung dance floor elements); a top-notch audio recording studio or chamber music hall with a noise floor of RC 8 and variable acoustics; a theatrical production and performance space with all lighting and rigging capabilities; or a studio for film shoots.

The studios are highly isolated from each other acoustically, so they can be used simultaneously, a DJ in one studio not interfering with a violin in the other.

Studio 1 (2016) by Kris QuaEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 1 is the larger of the two experimental studios created for the development and performance of original and innovative works. Here the emergence of new possibilities should be enabled, if not kindled by the space itself — a space that attempts to present no bias or interference. There is no front or back and — as seen in productions and performances to date — no top or bottom. Here again, the performer begins with the sound of silence and builds from there, either against a diffuse acoustic drop or an extraordinarily dry, non-reverberant, or somewhere in between. 

A walkable grid above allows the free positioning of lighting, props, and equipment arrays. The neutral stage floor makes it possible to nail or screw directly to its surface for any number of installations or set-ups. 

Chain hoists and eight computer-controlled winches allow technicians to position anything anywhere in the volume of the space, including interactive flying of equipment and people on a three-dimensional path through the studio.

Connectivity for scores of loudspeakers, cameras, and projectors can reach any point.

Studio 1, Yehuda Duenyas, Ascent. (2011) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 1 has been used for the development and presentations of an incredibly wide range of works. The work Ascent by Yehuda Duenyas controlled the rigging through the EEG of a person in a harness who — when in the right relaxed state, would slowly be lifted up. When the the relaxed state was interrupted through sounds, lights, or anxiety, the ascent would stop, and then continue when a state of relaxation was detected again.

Studio 1, film shoot. (2015)EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A 3D film shoot in Studio 1; part of the large scale work Tesseract by filmmaker Charles Atlas in collaboration with choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener.

Studio 1, Lars Jan, Holoscenes residency. (2013) by Kri QuaEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The experimental first phase of Holoscenes by Lars Jan required the installation of two enormous water tanks in Studio 1. The water was pumped between the two tanks to create rising and receding water levels in which the performers were immersed. 

Studio 1, solo performance by Sarah Hennies. (2019) by Sara GriffithEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 1; Sarah Hennies performs an evening of her work for solo percussion and electronics. 

Studio 1, High-order ambisonic system. (2019) by Michael ValiquetteEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 1; installation of a high-order ambisonic system with loudspeakers around and above the listeners.
 
More information about spatial audio can be found in the Google Arts and Culture story EMPAC Spatial Audio – Any Sound from Anywhere.

Studio 1, cross section of acoustic treatment and construction. (2009) by Johannes GoebelEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Several layers of material control the acoustics in the studios. Both studios are built as “room-in-room” with no connection by common structural elements. The two exterior walls are separated by an air gap. Because of the size of Studio 1, the very low frequencies need to be controlled. This is accomplished with bass membrane absorbers (see following images), followed by a layer of diffusive and absorptive acoustic panels. Finally, adjustable double-layered acoustic banners can be deployed to control  the reverberation time and which surfaces should be sound absorbing.









Studio1, bass membrane absorbers. (2007) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The walls in Studio 1 are covered with bass membrane absorbers and a layer of acoustic panels in front of them. The bass absorbers are tuned to nine frequencies to attenuate the full bottom frequency range, which would otherwise make such a large space sound boomy and out of balance.






Diffusive and absortive acoustic panels. (2008) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In front of the bass membrane absorbers, the walls of Studio 1 and Studio 2 have a layer of acoustic panels (black in Studio 1, white in Studio 2). They were developed by the acousticians at Kirkegaard Associates and architects at Grimshaw in collaboration with Johannes Goebel. 

The diffusive panels are cast with glass fiber reinforced gypsum. The absorptive panels have sound absorptive layers behind the perforated aluminum. A special mount, developed by Kurt Pragman, allows the panels to be angled in different directions to increase the acoustic diffusion. They can also be positioned at different distances to the wall.

Studio 1 has black diffusive and absorptive panels distributed over the walls. Studio 2 has only white diffusive panels, with no absorptive material between the panels and the walls.

Studio 2 (2016) by Kris QuaEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2; all acoustic banners retracted.

Studio 2, configuration of the High-Resolution Modular Loudspeaker Array for Wave Field Synthesis (2016) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2; hundreds of loudspeakers comprise the EMPAC High-Resolution Modular Loudspeaker Array for Wave Field Synthesis, flown in front of the walls with acoustic banners deployed.

Studio 2, Mivos Quartet residency. (2014) by Argeo AscaniEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

 Studio 2; Mivos Quartet in residence.

Studio 2, Colin Marston performance. (2015) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2; Colin Marston performance

Studio 2, performance by Laura Luna inside the panoramic screen. (2017) by EMPACEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2, Multimedia concert performance by Laura Luna inside EMPAC's 360-degree panoramic screen (featuring 32 loudspeakers at three different heights behind the micro-perforated, acoustically-transparent projection screen).

SlowMeDown / Maria Hassabi (2018) by Curated by Ashley Ferro-MurrayEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Studio 2, Installation SlowMeDown by Maria Hassabi.

North façade (2008) by Peter Aaron / EstoEMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC’s north façade 

Credits: Story

Story by Johannes Goebel

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