Grace Farms, a new cultural and community center with five programmatic initiatives in New Canaan, Connecticut, owned and operated by Grace Farms Foundation, opened to the public on October 9, 2015. Comprised of a multipurpose building called the River and 80 surrounding acres, Grace Farms is a gift of open space for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith, and encourages participation on a local, national, and global level. Grace Farms offers a wide range of programming, including discussions, intimate performances, family-friendly art classes, curated cultural projects, tea services, and other events.
Text from Silman, Structural Engineer
The recently completed River Building blends into its natural surroundings, minimally impacting views across what was formerly gently sloping farmland. The 83,000 sf building is a complex of glass-walled volumes – a sanctuary for contemplation, a library with more than 1,400 volumes, a community space with fresh food and beverage, a pavilion with tea served daily, and a partially sunken gymnasium for recreation and performances – connected by a sloping, winding roof.
Silman worked closely with the highly regarded structural engineer, Mutsuro Sasaki, a frequent collaborator and close colleague of Sejima and Nishizawa of SANAA, during the earliest concept stages of the design. With Silman leading the effort, the two firms created a close and effective relationship that led to a structural approach celebrating SANAA’s understated approach while meeting the unique challenges of the project, as well as taking advantage of local design and construction opportunities.
The final structural design comprises three primary elements: Hundreds of “flag pole” steel pipe columns, each individually fixed at their base, provide an overall lateral system that does not require crossing beams to achieve stability. A series of 10-inch by 10-inch steel beams curve in both axes and were fabricated through a digital transfer of data between Silman and the fabricator. A single glulam type and size was modified throughout to address the specific challenges of the site. This included adding steel to create trusses over long spans and additional outrigger framing at the longer overhangs.
Local carpenters were able to build much of the roof structure, as the infill framing consisted primarily of standard sawn lumber or laminated wood beams for the longer spans.
Grace Farms is a project where less is more. The success of the project – and the structure within it – relies almost entirely on the quiet integration of structure and architecture throughout the entire project.