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Where the arts meet technology
“Rensselaer combines innovation and success in research and education with an equally sophisticated and demanding cultural environment. This is what EMPAC will build upon,” says EMPAC Director Johannes Goebel. “EMPAC will provide programs and a place where artists, students, and faculty from a wide spectrum of disciplines can convene, exchange, collaborate, watch, listen, think, create, and allow themselves be to challenged.”
"The Rensselaer Plan has given us the focus, vision, and investment necessary to put the university back on the map with respect to groundbreaking research and leadership," says Omkaram "Om" Nalamasu, vice president for research.
In September 2003, the university broke ground for the $141 million building that is rising on the southwestern corner of the Rensselaer campus. Construction is well under way for the 206,000-square-foot building, with the grand-opening festival planned for September 2008.
EMPAC will house a 1,200-seat concert hall and a 400-seat theater. It also will have a 3,500-square-foot black-box studio optimized for theater, dance, and visual presentations. EMPAC will incorporate acoustical properties, artistic lighting, and technologically adaptable performance spaces to support research in visualization, simulation, animation, haptics, acoustics, and more.
In the summer of 2002, Goebel joined Rensselaer to begin developing comprehensive programming for EMPAC even before construction began. Previously the director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics, which he founded at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, Goebel has brought to Rensselaer his experience as composer, producer, and mentor of intermedia art and interdisciplinary research.
A number of EMPAC performances have already taken place. In September, the midpoint between the groundbreaking and opening was marked with “EMPAC 360: On Site+Sound,” an event held at sunset that included aerial dance, music, live visuals, and fireworks enjoyed by an audience of 2,000 spectators from the Troy campus and the surrounding community.
EMPAC will anchor what is becoming an arts corridor along Eighth Street on the western side of the campus. It is joined by the highly acclaimed arts department, which is housed in the newly renovated West Hall. EMPAC draws heavily from the department’s leadership position in the electronic arts. The department boasts some of the university’s fastest-growing programs and has attracted a highly diverse, internationally recognized faculty whose work is regularly viewed and heard around the world.
In fact, the department’s iEAR (Integrated Electronics Arts at Rensselaer) graduate program that has been promoting leading-edge art for 20 years, and the successful EMAC (electronic media, arts, and communication) undergraduate program convinced Jackson that Rensselaer had the foundation and the vision to establish an experimental arts center that would be unique in the world.
Outward signs of progress
“As far as I was concerned, the south side of campus ended at the Armory. College Avenue seemed to be anything but a part of the college,” says Baldwin, who is completing a dual major in mechanical engineering and economics.
The north side of campus didn’t fare much better. “When I was a freshman, I can remember visiting my friends’ dorms that still appeared to be like Army barracks. The entire landscape of Freshman Hill left much to be desired,” Baldwin says. “But, that was then and the Rensselaer of today is not what it was three years ago.”
Today, the intersection Baldwin remembers as a no-man’s land is a new gateway to the south side of the campus, with new walkways and lighting. The extensively renovated Academy Hall now serves as a student service center. The Institute also transformed an empty T-shirt shop into a lively coffeehouse, Java++, where students can get a cappuccino, eat organic, and take advantage of wireless Internet access. In fact, the Troy campus is replete with new and renovated cafes in the Darrin Communications Center, the Folsom Library, and other locations, with future plans for expanded dining options in the Union.
Indeed, under The Rensselaer Plan, a whole new physical campus has sprung up with new and renovated facilities serving all aspects of the university community.
In addition to construction of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and EMPAC, Rensselaer has invested millions of dollars in new and renovated freshman residence halls that are becoming places of living and learning. Barton Hall, completed in 2000, was the first new residence hall built on campus since 1977. The investment extends to improved housing for graduate students as well, including the renovation of abandoned buildings along Peoples Avenue and other areas near campus.
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