October 9, 2015 marked the public opening of Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut. Designed by luminary Japanese architects SANAA, the sinuous building takes its name from the way water meanders through rolling terrain. The serpentine structure slithers down a hill, forming pond-like spaces on its way that function as a library, commons, arts center and gymnasium. “Our goal with the River is to make the architecture become part of the landscape,” says the not-for-profit foundation’s president.
“Grace Farms is a welcoming new place…for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith”
Comprised of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryuei Nishizawa, SANAA, in recent years, have gone from a highly respected yet obscure firm to globally recognized, Pritzker-winning all stars. The duo are known for their ethereal forms and high level of refinement that unnervingly capture a site’s social and physical context. The River Building is only their 3rd North American project, preceded by New York’s New Museum (2007) and Ohio’s Toledo Museum of Art (2006).
“the laminated beams were so long that they had to be driven around the continent via New Mexico because the direct path from Canada to Connecticut was too curvy.”
“Grace Farms is a welcoming new place…for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith,” says the foundation. And their 80 acres of hills, ponds and open space are open to the public, for free. But what exactly is this idyllic place that sounds too good to be true? Is it a church? Is it a cult? Critics may be skeptical. After all, Grace Farms is backed by Robert Prince, the CIO of Bridgewater. And the world’s biggest hedge fund itself has often been likened to a cult. But representatives will be quick to ensure you that “it is not a church. It is a place to make good things happen, for people to come and make a difference.”
No expense was spared in making this ambitious, 8-year, $83 million project a reality. Aside from SANAA, the team also had sustainability consultants, geothermal engineers and meadow consultants, which I didn’t even know was a thing. Their graphics were all done by design studio Pentagram. In sourcing materials for the structure, the laminated beams were so long that they had to be driven around the continent via New Mexico because the direct path from Canada to Connecticut was too curvy. The permanent art is equally impressive: works by Thomas Demand, Olafur Eliasson, Susan Philpsz and Teresita Fernandez.
Grace Farms and it’s River Building elude categorization. But one thing is certain: SANAA have brilliantly elevated the site itself to create a venue of cultural interest and curiosity.