Location: Troy, NY
Size: 220,000 square feet
Cost: $141 million
Architect of Record
Davis Brody Bond, LLP
Turner Construction Company
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) of Troy, NY, is a school known for its engineering program, and as such, when it decides to build something, it doesn’t aim for mere functionality. So, it comes as no surprise that the school’s Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is a 220,000-square-foot architectural feat—one that conforms to the school’s technical mission by setting precedents for innovative and integrated performance-space design.
Rumblings for the center began in 2001, when RPI sent out a call for submissions and settled on a design by London-based Grimshaw Architects, and ground officially broke in 2003. Because EMPAC was built into a high, steep hillside in a region notorious for “mass wasting” (a geological phenomenon involving slope movement), 215 cable anchors were embedded into the rock to ground the building’s foundation for seismic security. And, to further cushion the building’s acoustically sensitive spaces against unnecessary vibration, springs were embedded in the foundation, and gaps, conceived by Kirkegaard Associates, were added between the ceilings and floors of stacked studios and stage areas. RPS’s students were involved in feasibility studies of certain portions of the project, including the main concert hall’s canvas ceiling.
EMPAC embodies sustainability through features such as energy-efficient lighting, efficient water-usage systems, and an air-handling system that uses reheat coils and variable speed drives. RPI was able to fund its energy-efficiency elements with $440,000 of awarded incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, whose New Construction Program provides technical support and financial incentives for the construction of new or substantially renovated structures in the Empire State.
The finished center is shaped to resemble a ship’s wooden hull, and it includes the 1,200-seat hall, a 400-seat theater, and myriad practice spaces and studios. Its north-facing, 300-foot-tall glass entrance façade—heated quietly by a water-glycol mixture that circulates through the windowing’s steel supports—now admits thousands of patrons each week, all of whom get to experience a truly sound structure in all senses of the word.