Category Archives: Basic documents

Work produced specifically for the PNAU.

Speculations on EMPAC

The Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York

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It’s a new, world-class, 142 million-dollar architectural extravaganza for music and the electronic arts — and nobody seems sure where it came from or what it’s doing there. Opening next October.

Any visitor to Troy has to wonder about the huge, glass-skinned, vaguely green-colored building rising up the steep slope that divides the declining post-industrial city along the Hudson river from the prosperous Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on the top of the hill. Is it a vast community center where the inhabitants of the city will be able to meet the students in a friendly egalitarian atmosphere? Is it a library, a hospital, a sports-and-leisure facility — or maybe a particle accelerator, a jet-propulsion lab, an astronomy complex unlocking the secrets of the stars above?

Well, no, it’s not any of that, but instead the Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC. When the main stage is done you’ll be able to hear a pin drop from the back balcony of the 1,200-seat concert hall; you’ll attend a top-flight theater production with computer-controlled special effects, watch film projections on the world’s largest screen, participate in vanguard sound and media experiments in two black boxes outfitted with every imaginable kind of electronic equipment, then finally relax with a glass of wine on the terrace cafe and enjoy a view over the quaint little provincial city. Johannes Goebel, formerly of the prestigious ZKM art and media center in Karlsruhe, Germany, has overseen the design and construction process with the aim of contributing a beautifully designed and acoustically perfect building to the world music, media and performing arts community. This man knows exactly what he’s doing. But the question why such a facility has been planned at RPI in Troy, and what it will ultimately be used for, remains an enigma of the first degree.

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Collapse and renewal of the knowledge society

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Is the university in ruins, as Bill Readings said ten years ago? Or is it in chains, as Giroux says today? These are two basic books for understanding the contemporary university. They explore the history, philosophy, economics and politics of what used to be called “higher education” — before the process of becoming a knowledgeable member of society turned into yet another vector of the flexibilization, corporatization and militarization that is currently plaguing the United States.

One thing is certain: if there is to be any fundamental transformation of the so-called “knowledge societies” and of the people who inhabit them, it will have to come at least in part from the laboratories, libraries, studios and public debates of the institutions of knowledge production. Never in the past did these institutions play such a central role in shaping society, through streams of innovation that are almost immediately turned into technologies, organizational forms, landscapes of belief and behavior. And never before did universities have such a great responsibility to innovate for the better, in a world that is now faced with major crises. Continue reading

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