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Grace Farms River Building by SANAA – New Canaan, CT

Place: New Canaan, Country: United States
Client: Grace Farms Foundation
Design Architect: SANAA - Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa
Executive Architect: Handel Architects
Landscape Architect: OLIN
MEP Engineer and Lighting: Buro Happold
Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates
Text by Riccardo Bianchini
Image credits: see bylines

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut exterior 01

Photo Dean Kaufman

Grace Farms River Building  – SANAA Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa 

New Canaan, Connecticut, is a place perhaps not very famous outside the United States; yet, this municipality, located about 50 miles north-east of New York City, can boast having two of the most beautiful architectural icons of North America: The Glass House by Philip Johnson and, since October 2015, the new Grace Farms’ River Building designed by Japanese architectural firm SANAA.

The name “River Building” should not be taken too literally: it does not refer to something built near or above a watercourse. It is rather a building formally and conceptually inspired by the idea of an imaginary river flowing through the knolls of Grace Farms.

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut aerial view

The Grace Farms site in New Canaan, Connecticut, aerial view; photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut scale model

Scale model of the Grace Farms River Building by SANAA

SANAA Kazuyo Sejima Ryue Nishizawa portrait

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, photo courtesy of Grace Farms

For those who have never heard of it, Grace Farms Foundation is a quite peculiar institution.
Established in 2009 by a group of affluent New Canaan residents, the foundation “supports initiatives in the areas of nature, arts, justice, community and faith”. Thanks to a conspicuous budget of about 120-million dollars, mostly from private donations, the Grace Farms property is now the main place where the activities promoted by the foundation are developed and shared with the public and the local community.

When SANAA, the Tokio-based award-winning practice conducted by Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956) and Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966), was contacted by the foundation to design the new Grace Farms center, the architects were asked to meet two key-points with their design: “to make the architecture become part of the landscape” and “we asked for no front door”, says Sharon Prince, the President of the Grace Farm Foundation.

The solution developed by SANAA is a low-rise transparent construction which sinuously meanders on the undulated terrain and in which all the functional area come one after another under a single curvilinear roof. While the building seems to be single-story from the outside, it actually has also a second underground level, accessible through stairs and ramps, which accommodates a lecture hall, as well as storage, service and ancillary spaces.

SANAA Grace Farms site plan 2 New Haven

SANAA Grace Farms site plan New Haven

SANAA Grace Farms elevation New Haven

Grace Farms, site plan, ground floor plan, and elevation image by SANAA

The structure is made in steel, the thin columns that support the roof with round hollow profiles, and the roof structure with H and rectangular sections.
The enclosure walls are made with curved glass panels and wood is widely used for ceiling and pavement cladding. The roof top is clad in aluminum with a “pearly” semi-gloss finish.

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut exterior 02

photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut exterior 04

photo © Dean Kaufman

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut exterior 05

photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut architecture

photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut exterior evening

photo © Dean Kaufman

Sitting in the middle of a 80-acre idyllic site, the 83,000 square foot building accommodates a series of different functional spaces:

 – A 700-seat auditorium and theater, called Sanctuary
– A library “with resources to research justice, the arts, nature and faith”
Pavilion: a welcome center where visitors receive information and are oriented, it is also used for small music concerts
Commons, comprizing various visitor services, including a coffee/bar, and a 300-seat dining and living room
–  Court: a multipurpose and multimedia-equipped hall which can be used as gymnasium, dance hall, art performance space.

The theater and the gymnasium occupies the opposite ends of a “porous” building, which has no main entrance and can be accessed from several points distributed along its length.
Along with the main building, the Grace Farms complex also includes a reconverted two-wing barn which houses classrooms, rehearsal spaces, an art studio, a nursery, and offices.

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut theater

“The Sanctuary” 700-seat auditorium; photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut Olafur Eliasson mats

A relax and meditation area within “The Sanctuary”, including a series of ” mats for multidimensional prayers”  by Olafur Eliasson; photo © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut restaurant

Grace Farms, coffee bar, photo by Dean Kaufman

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut library 02

Grace Farms, library, photo by Dean Kaufman

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut interior 03

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut interior 01

The “Commons”, interior views, photos © Iwan Baan

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut gymnasium

SANAA Grace Farms New Haven Connecticut dance room

“The Court” multi-purpose space

 




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