SANAA's River Puts Connecticut Farmland Back On the Map

Grace Farms SANAA 1208 (c) Dean Kaufman The gloss of anodized aluminum gives the meandering roof of the river structure its liquid appearance. Photography by Dean Kaufman.


Grace Community Church is a 15-year-old nondenominational Connecticut congregation that began in the pastor's garage. Having outgrown a series of previous homes, the church now sits at the heart of Grace Farms, an 80-acre property of former farmsteads in New Canaan, Connecticut. The poperty's $67 million construction project included converting existing horse barns for admin, and for other community groups. But the real showstopper is the new structure designed by Japanese architects SANAA , best known in the U.S. for the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.


The architects call it a "river," but the experimental flowing structure is perhaps more accurately described as a nonchurch. Glass-enclosed volumes animate a snaking walkway, all sheltered below its wet-look glossy anodized aluminum roof. Curved glass encloses a basketball court, small teahouse, library, and dining room.


Grace Farms SANAA 6906 (c) Iwan Baan Crushed granite paving forms a serpentine walkway that dances back and forth below the roofline. Photography by Iwan Baan.


The Grace Farms Foundation was established to promote social and economic justice, ecology, community, the arts, and faith. Up the covered outdoor stair, a glass-wrapped hilltop sanctuary nods, perhaps, to a more conventional architecture of transcendence, thanks to its placement on high. Sharon Prince, board president of the foundation, which owns the property, wants to welcome people of all faiths—or no faith at all—throughout the week. "A simple wooden cross is temporarily placed in the sanctuary for Sunday services," she explains.


That room's floor-to-ceiling windows are wallpapered with the astonishing woodland panorama outside. Indeed, the grounds, as tweaked by Philadelphia landscape architecture firm OLIN , were tinged with fiery fall color just in time for the opening last week—forming an incandescent backdrop for interpretive dance performed to live jazz.


Grace Farms SANAA 7635 (c) Iwan Baan Custom LED lighting imbues a sense of place, echoing curved floor-to-ceiling glass. Photography by Iwan Baan.

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