Innovative in Form, Pioneering in Function, An Electronic Media and Performing Arts Center Takes Shape at Rensselaer
Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, London, Selected
as Design Architect for Technologically Advanced Performance
and Electronic Arts Facility
Troy, N.Y.- Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, today announced that the innovative,
London-based architecture firm of Nicholas Grimshaw &
Partners has been selected to design Rensselaer’s new
electronic media and performing arts center.
Serving the campus, the region, and the international arts
community, the building will provide five venues for
performance—ranging from an elegant 1,200-seat auditorium to a
suite of sophisticated experimental spaces—as well as
audiovisual production studios, multimedia exhibition
galleries, practice and rehearsal spaces, and facilities for
artists in residence. As a performance venue, the center will
welcome the world to the Rensselaer campus. As an operating
program of the university, the center will support artistic
performance as a site of new knowledge in many disciplines,
from architecture to information technology, in a way that is
unprecedented in the United States.
The $50 million project, encompassing approximately 160,000
square feet, is scheduled to break ground in spring 2002 and
open in autumn 2003.
“On the one side, Rensselaer’s faculty and students are at the
leading edge of a number of technologies that have applications
in the performing arts, or that are inspired by a researcher’s
interest in the arts,” Dr. Jackson says. “On the other side,
Rensselaer has a reputation as one of the most creative
campuses in the world for the electronic arts. For these
reasons, we want to create the electronic media and performing
arts center as a nexus of technological and artistic innovation
and optimized performance space.”
“Our whole office is excited about this project,” said
Nicholas Grimshaw, chairman of Nicholas Grimshaw &
Partners. “We believe we can bring a European sense of
structure and detail to this wonderful series of spaces. We
want to design a recital hall that musicians will be drawn to
from all over the world; an auditorium that will be renowned
for the flexibility and range of its production facilities; and
experimental performance spaces that will astound people by
their technical versatility. The whole complex will also offer
circulation and atrium spaces that will be a marvelous meeting
place for the university and the community at large.”
Design Concept: Advanced Engineering Meets
As envisioned by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, the
building will appear to be a “floating wafer” that extends the
campus westward beyond the edge of a steep bluff. Visitors may
walk out onto this roof structure to enjoy views out to Troy
and the Hudson River beyond, and to visit exhibition galleries
built into this level. Or, by passing down a ramp, visitors may
enter the facility and the dramatic “found space” within.
To minimize the bulk that is necessary in any performing arts
complex, the volumes for the 400-seat recital theater and
1,200-seat auditorium flow down and into the hillside,
respectfully following the topography of the site. An ingenious
structural system allows these big halls to be constructed as a
pair of shells-one convex, one concave-suspended within the
building envelope. Upon entering the building’s atrium,
visitors discover themselves at the top of a cavernous space,
in which the shell of the larger auditorium hangs down like the
hull of a ship, or the rounded belly of a stringed instrument.
The shape was in fact inspired by the time-honored forms of
violin-makers; and the device of flowing the large hall out of
the hillside and suspending the smaller hall from a wishbone
structure insulates them from external vibrations, as demanded
by the principles of acoustic engineering.
To make the building energy efficient, facilities such as
rehearsal spaces, audiovisual studios, and offices are located
within a stepped linear wing that extends to the west of the
campus. The north facade is a continuous glass wall, permitting
unobstructed views inside and out and allowing the atrium to
function as a winter garden.
Selecting the Architect
To select an architect for the facility, Rensselaer initially
drew from a short list of 14 firms. Then they initiated an
architectural competition in March 2001 among four
distinguished firms: Davis Brody Bond, New York, NY, teaming
with Thomas Leeser, London; Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners,
London; Morphosis Architects, Santa Monica, CA; and Bernard
Tschumi Architects, New York, NY.
All finalists made presentations on June 14 before
Rensselaer’s jury committee and its external advisers: James H.
Collins, Jr. President and CEO of Payette Associates; Bruce S.
Fowle, Founder and Senior Principal of Fox & Fowle
Architects; and K. Michael Hays, Professor at the Harvard
Graduate School of Design and Adjunct Curator of Architecture
at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Alan Balfour, Dean of the School of Architecture and member of
the jury committee, commented that, “The distinction of the
Grimshaw submission was in seeing the building as an ensemble
of instrumental spaces defined by technology which seemed
exactly appropriate to house the range of performances and
stimulate new knowledge that Rensselaer will bring to the
intersection of the arts with science and technology.”
About Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners
Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners is perhaps best known for its
design of London’s International Terminal Waterloo (completed
1993), which received the President’s Award for Building of the
Year from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal
Fine Arts Commission/Sunday Times Building of the Year Award,
and the Excellence in Design Award of the London chapter of the
American Institute of Architects. Recent arts projects include
a new building for the Royal College of Art in London, which
features a major exhibition space; and the Caixa Galicia Art
Foundation Building on the waterfront at La Coruña, Spain,
which includes an auditorium and lecture hall together with
extensive galleries for works of art. Other notable projects
include the Phase One redevelopment of London’s Paddington
Station (completed 1999) and The Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K.
(completed 2001), which has created the world’s largest
greenhouse as a showcase for global biodiversity.
Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners has an established office in
the United States, where the firm’s first American project, the
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is
scheduled for completion in fall 2001. The firm is also
involved in the design of the Miami Intermodal Center in
Florida, a major transport interchange project due for
construction in 2005. Rensselaer’s electronic media and
performing arts center is the first major performing arts
project undertaken by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.
For more information on Rensselaer and its electronic media
and performing arts center, the public may visit the
university’s web site at www.rpi.edu.
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