Grace Farms is a multipurpose building within an 80-acre natural environment in New Canaan, Connecticut that the non-profit Grace Farms Foundation is preserving for people to experience nature and encounter the arts.
The facilities of the building will be made available by the Foundation to Grace Community Church and other select nonprofit and community groups, and will be the site for pub- lic amenities and programs ranging from coffee and tea service, discussions, intimate concerts and family-friendly art classes and athletics to a curated, multi-disciplinary series of cultural projects and events.
Approximately 77 of the 80 acres of Grace Farms are being retained in perpetuity as open meadows, woods, wetlands and ponds. OLIN’s design preserves and enhances the existing habitat for native flora and fauna while integrating a community garden, athletic fields and a SANAA-designed playground and trails. Trees that were cleared for construction are being milled on site to construct the furniture for Grace Farms, including 18- foot-long community tables. Fifty-five 500-foot-deep geothermal wells have been drilled on the property for heating and cooling. Seventy percent of mowed areas will be returned to natural meadows by Larry Weaner Landscape Associates.
SANAA’s goal 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 through the spaces and experience created by the River.
Nestled into the rolling landscape of Grace Farms, the River begins on a knoll and then flows down the long, gentle slope (a change in grade of 43 ft – 9 in) in a series of bends, forming pondlike spaces on its journey. Structurally, the building of glass, concrete, steel and wood is in essence a single long roof, which seems to float above the surface of the ground as it twists and turns across the landscape. The walkways, courtyards and glass wrapped volumes that form beneath the roof are remarkably transparent and invite people to engage with the expansive natural surroundings.
Under the continuous roof are five transparent glass-enclosed volumes that can host a variety of activities and events, while maintaining a constant sense of the surround- ing natural environment. In sequence, they are:
Sanctuary: a 700-person sanctuary/indoor amphitheater (20,900 sf)
Library: a staffed library with resources to research justice, the arts, nature and faith. It includes a glass-enclosed conference room and fireplace for discussion and hospi- tality, as well as Grace Farms Foundation offices. (4,550 sf)
Commons: a dining room and living room, with capacity for 300, with communal tables built from trees harvested on-site, a coffee bar, sofas and fireplace, offering hospitality and expansive views. A lower level accomodates a lecture hall and ancillary spaces. (14,400 sf)
Pavilion: a staffed welcome center where visitors can be oriented to Grace Farms, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or listen to intimate musical performances (950 sf) Court: a partially below-grade gymnasium/multi-purpose space with adjoining media lab and game room, for recreation, youth activities, receptions and arts performances (16,900 sf)
The original barn was renovated to serve as a welcome center with a greeting space in each of its two wings. The barn will also house many of the day-to-day programs, with classrooms, an art studio, a rehearsal space with sprung floor, offices, a lounge, a nursery and a drop-off food pantry to support the justice program.
A barbecue pit in one of the courtyards defined by the River will serve as a place for picnics, large and small. One of the paddocks remaining on site will contain a play- ground being designed by SANAA, an athletic field is being created on top of the lower geothermal field and a walking trail is being laid out. A variety of outdoor furniture will be placed around the buildings.
Roof: The basic framing is composed of repeating units of Glu-Lam timber beams supported by columns, with each beam tilted to follow the slope of the site and the distance between units changing slightly. The top layer of the roof is a rain screen of anodized aluminum panels, each 2 ft wide by 20 ft long.
Glazing: Exterior walls of the River’s enclosed volumes are double-glazed panels of glass—203 in total (excluding the door and door vestibule panels)—joined with a specially engineered 7mm edge tech super spacer, with fitting at the edge of the glass to mask the spacer.
Interiors: There are three kinds of flooring: a light-colored concrete similar in tone to the bonded gravel outside (used for most of the floors); wood (red oak for the floors in the library and administration office, and maple for the gym); and grey brick for the floor of the living area. Ceilings are the exposed Glu-Lam beams of the roof frame. Wall finishes are white painted drywall.
Millwork: Furniture materials are principally anodized aluminum and red oak, the same materials used for the rain screen of the roof and the wood of the floors.
Furniture: Wood harvested from tree-removal from the site yielded oak, ash, birch, beech, hickory poplar and black locust. Selection is underway for which species to use for custom furniture.
Walkways: Bonded gravel.
Design architect: SANAA, Tokyo
Principals in charge: Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa
Landscape architect: OLIN, Philadelphia
Principal in charge: Dennis McGlade