2017 AIA Awards - Architecture
Associate Firm: Handel Architects
Owner: Grace Farms Foundation
Location: New Canaan, Connecticut
Inspired by the Grace Farms Foundation’s five principals of nature, arts, justice, community, and faith, this project comprises a new multipurpose community center and an 80-acre preserve in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Since opening in October 2015, Grace Farms has attracted visitors representing a spectrum of age, geographic, and socioeconomic demographics. The experience of exploring the intersection of architecture and nature is married to the foundation’s idea that “space communicates” and can inspire collaboration for the betterment of society.
Fully integrated into its natural setting, the 83,000-square-foot community center, The River, meanders through the rolling terrain. Beginning on a knoll, it follows a gentle slope through a series of switchbacks and creates pond-like spaces along its travels. The building has a single long roof, which hovers between 10 and 14 feet above, allowing the courtyards, walkaways, and glass-enclosed volumes beneath to remain almost completely transparent.
With an indoor amphitheater, library with conference room, community space featuring fresh food, a pavilion that offers tea service, and a sunken recreational space, The River’s slate of programming is remarkably broad. A barn original to the site that was reclaimed to host most of the foundation’s community-driven programming is outfitted with an art studio, rehearsal space, and lecture hall.
The vision for the project began with a commitment to the preservation of green space, and sustainable design was key to the design team’s decisions. Roughly 77 of Grace Farms’ 80 acres are to remain in perpetuity as open meadows, woods, wetlands, and ponds, and during construction 55 geothermal wells were dug to facilitate heating and cooling of The River.
Free and open to the public six days a week, Grace Farms is a place where people can experience deep feelings of community and peaceful respite.