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A look inside the building brings this vision into sharp focus. A single structure incorporating four distinct and specialized venues under one roof, EMPAC includes an acoustically optimized 1,200-seat concert hall for musical performances and ceremonies, a 400-seat theater, and two unique studios, measuring 3,500 and 2,500 square feet respectively, created for flexible uses by artists or researchers.

Designed to the highest professional standards to accommodate both the traditional performing arts and experimental media, each facility also can function as a platform for research at the leading edge of science, engineering, and the arts. The concert hall, a world-class venue for orchestras, is equally capable of accommodating presentations with electronically generated sound and video projection. The space has not only one of the largest projection screens in New York state, but has also the potential to create an immersive environment with audio and video projected around the audience or to allow for research that requires extreme visualization or simulation capabilities.

The theater’s 40-foot by 80-foot stage and 70-foot flytower promise to meet the best standards of professional performing arts companies while providing a very rare facility for experimental artists. The framing of the side galleries of this venue allows projection screens and loudspeakers to be attached to create an immersive virtual environment for performers, audience members, or researchers working in the space. And by just lowering the fire curtain, the stage alone may be used as a large lab in which any object, even of great weight, can be flown in the 3-D space under computer control.

Studios one and two are suited for music and dance presentations, respectively, but also are optimized for scientific visualization, animation, immersive video projection, free space optics, and acoustical and architectural studies, among many other capabilities. They have the quality and infrastructure of a commercial audio or video recording studio.

Those who want a look inside the building will have their first opportunity during three weekends of special events, a presidential colloquy, symposium, exhibits, and performances that will introduce EMPAC to the campus community and neighbors from Troy and surrounding areas—and from around the world.

With its vast range of capabilities found in the four venues—and the myriad ways in which each space can be utilized by artist, scientist, performer, engineer, dreamer, or doer—EMPAC defies easy definition. Goebel sees EMPAC as the meeting place where varying visions for its use intersect, interact, challenge, and change each other.

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“The quality of these spaces—between the physical properties and the digital technology, the four venues along with the support spaces—does not exist
anywhere under one roof,” says Goebel.

“It’s this bridge, or it’s this river where arts and science and technology can come together and have a confluence and the highest levels of quality will meet under one roof,” he says.

A Vision and a Plan

At the EMPAC groundbreaking ceremony in 2003, President Jackson posed the question that was likely on the minds of many: “Why should Rensselaer commit its resources to creating what many view as an arts platform, when we are a technological research university?” The answer, she said, “lies in the question.”

“The creation of EMPAC stems from the conviction that education must occur in an environment which offers diversity of thought and experience, dialogue and exchange,” said President Jackson. “With EMPAC, Rensselaer will be able to provide a platform where research and technology can interact with artistic creation and reflection. As a result, students will benefit from a richer and deeper understanding of culture and society, as well as the roles and application of research and technology.”

A pillar of The Rensselaer Plan, launched more than eight years ago to raise Rensselaer to the top tier of research universities, EMPAC was designed to serve as a platform for pioneering discovery in the arts and sciences, and as a home to an emerging, collaborative community of artists, engineers, scientists, and designers.

“With EMPAC our aim is to create an intellectual community that did not before exist, and a cultural change at Rensselaer that will reverberate globally,” says President Jackson.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.