Photograph Copyright Iwan Baan
This fall, Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut celebrated its one-year anniversary as the new cultural and community center for nature, arts, justice, community and faith. The 83,000-square-foot multi-use building was designed by SANAA Architects and is known as The River because of the way it meanders through the rolling landscape.
Architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010, the profession's highest honor.
SANAA's design was unveiled in September 2012 and the project was completed in 2015.
The River begins on a knoll and flows down a long, gentle slope in a series of bends, forming pond-like spaces on its journey. Structurally, the building of glass, concrete, steel and wood is in essence a single long roof, which appears to float ten to fourteen feet above the surface of the ground as it twists and turns across the countryside.
Sharon Prince, President of The Grace Farms Foundation, explains, "We enjoy welcoming the public and sharing the multitude of programmed and unstructured experiences that Grace Farms offers. The intersection of landscape, architecture, art and community creates a new kind of space for visitors and non-profits to collaborate for good. We invite people to shape their own personal experiences, take a quiet nature walk, join an art and architecture tour, see a performance, take part in a justice initiative or reflect on their faith. The possibilities are as open as the landscape itself," referring to SANAA's design which blends almost transparently into the surrounding woodlands, wetlands and meadows.
SANAA's goal for the design was, "to make the architecture of The River become part of the landscape without drawing attention to itself, or even feeling like a building, with the hope that those who are on the property will have a greater enjoyment of the beautiful environment and changing seasons."
The glass-walled volumes of The River consist of a 20,900 square foot sanctuary/indoor amphitheater with seating for 700; a 4,550 square foot staffed library with a glass-enclosed conference room and fireplace; a 14,400 square foot Commons area with a dining room and living room and coffee bar; a 950 square foot staffed pavilion where visitors can enjoy a cup of tea or listen to musical performances; and a 16,900 square foot gymnasium/multi-purpose space with adjoining media lab and game room for recreation, youth activities, receptions and arts performances.
The enclosed portion of The River is over 56,000 square feet, and the covered exterior pathway is nearly 25,500 square feet. Everything is linked together by a single curving anodized aluminum roof manufactured by Zahner. The River is approximately 150 feet wide at maximum, 25 feet wide at minimum and varies in height from 10 feet to 14 feet. The building is approximately 1,400 feet long, but because of its switchbacks, it sits on an expanse of land that is approximately 700 feet long.
The West Barn serves as a welcome center for Grace Farms and houses most of the day-to-day community programming in classrooms, an art studio, a rehearsal space with sprung floor and a lecture hall. The East Barn is the home of the local nondenominational Grace Community Church, with offices, a lounge, a nursery and a drop-off food pantry.
The landscape design, by SANAA in collaboration with OLIN, integrates community gardens, athletic fields and trails while preserving and enhancing the existing habitat for native flora and fauna.
Several sustainability measures have been incorporated into the design including the creation of 55 500-foot-deep geothermal wells for heating and cooling of The River. Trees that were cleared for the construction of the River were milled on site to construct furniture, including the 18-foot-long community tables in the Commons.
The Grace Farms Foundation was established in 2009 as a private operating foundation with 501c3 status. Grace Farms is a gift of open space to the community and admission is free. Public hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 pm, and Sunday noon to 6 pm. For more information visit: http://gracefarms.org.
Photograph Copyright Iwan Baan
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