Amazing Grace: SANAA designs the ultimate community centre
As the wellspring of modernist residential architecture, New Canaan, Connecticut has long been a town known for both its manmade and natural beauty. Already home to Philip Johnson’s The Glass House and other breathtaking icons by Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes and Landis Gores, the township welcomed a new addition over the weekend – the SANAA-designed Grace Farms, a community and cultural centre, library, multipurpose gymnasium and public park, spread out over 80 acres of luscious woodland.
Funded by the Grace Farms Foundation, a private organization that runs initiatives that support the arts, areas of faith, justice and the New Canaan community, the glorified recreation centre is situated on a former horse farm and has been in the works since 2009. Dealt with the brief to integrate the architecture into the existing landscape as much as possible, SANAA created an undulating building that meanders down the topography of the site, which has been christened 'The River'. Starting at the top of a knoll, where a 20,900 square foot, glass enclosed amphitheatre sits, the building gently descends down the terrain via a covered, but outdoor walkway that connects library, dining room, welcome pavilion and ends in a sunken gymnasium that houses a basketball court, media lab and games room, perfect for youth-oriented activities and cultural performances. All the indoor spaces are encased in curved glass, preserving a sense of the outdoors when indoors and vice versa.
'Our goal with the River is to make the architecture become part of the landscape,' says Kazuyo Sejima, co-founder of the Pritzker Prize-winning SANAA. 'We 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.'
Great effort has been taken to ensure that Grace Farms’ new home reflects the altruistic ethos of the foundation. From the custom-made dining furniture that SANAA designed from trees felled on site, to the mile-long path that allows public visitors to enjoy the idyllic grounds and ponds, Grace Farms is an inspiring addition to New Canaan’s design legacy that will keep giving back for years to come.