Iwan Baan in New Canaan


Iwan and Jessica aren't the first architecture admirers visiting New Canaan. This small town at Connecticut's Gold Coast has a direct train transport connection with New York. Ideal surroundings for summer homes with class: Queen Anne, New England Colonial of Midcentury modern. Eliot Noyes, Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson lived there. In 2015 architecture firm SANAA, Sejima And Nishizawa Associated architects, built the new art center Grace Farms.


“We prepare ourselves to be available for very, very delicate and subtle possibilities and not just explosive ones. And you know, those ones, they also create goose bumps, just as much.”


- Andrea Miller, Creative Director at Gallin Dance Practicing awe came easy to us while we sat in Grace Farm’s glass sanctuary of an auditorium to celebrate their first year anniversary - an event they coined, ‘Possibilities are Endless.’ Draped in goose bumps, we watched, in wonder, the Gallim Dancers perform their site-specific work against a backdrop of autumn foliage. They took us through, around and even out of the auditorium and behind the walls of glass that erased traditional ideas of indoor and outdoor spaces, dancing their way through our universal struggles of love, spirituality and the tensions between the individual and collective experience. The dancers exuded a sort of delicious curiousness in their performance: one that made us think, and question and reflect. There is an immense care and collaborative effort so apparent at Grace Farms, and their dedication to doing social good is contagious.

They do a lot of things, and to understand the breadth of their programming, you’re better off packing your bags and heading to one of the most unlikely corners of the US to host such a welcoming, progressive space. Known as the River because of the way it meanders through the rolling terrain, the SANAA building seamlessly integrates into the natural setting. Nestled into the landscape, the River begins on a knoll and then flows down the long, gentle slope in a series of bends, forming pond-like spaces on its journey. Structurally, the building of glass, concrete, steel, and wood is in essence a single long roof, which seems to float some 10 to 14 feet above the surface of the ground as it twists and turns across the landscape. 

The walkways, courtyards, and glass-wrapped volumes that form beneath the roof are remarkably transparent and invite people to engage with the expansive natural surroundings. SANAA believes that one of the most interesting and enticing aspects of this project is the opportunity to foster a sense of community and place. When designing, they were eager to create a place that invites people from all walks of life into a space of comfort. They wished to open the boundaries between interior and exterior because the site and nature facilitate an understanding of an individual’s place in the cosmos. They wanted Grace Farms to be at once majestic with gardens, and long views, while at the same time very personal with shelter and places for meditation. A few days after we celebrated Grace Farm’s first birthday (and Sejima’s 60th!) Grace Farms was awarded the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize.


by Iwan Baan.



This production was published in WOTH No3. This issue is still available in english via Bruil & van der StaaijOr get a subscription here!

Dutch versions of WOTH can be ordered in our shop and an NL subscription is available here.