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Really Amazing Grace

Green Awards Winner: Public space sits lightly on the land



Once I saw an infomercial for a piece of fabric that, when twisted and folded properly, could be fashioned into a skirt, a shirt, a cardigan, or some sort of head scarf. My sartorial efforts are exhausted just by putting on a belt. But this kind of effortless versatility can be found in the serene topography of Grace Farms.

Nestled along the New Canaan–Pound Ridge border, Grace Farms is an 80-acre expanse that was rescued from the clutches of developers and transformed into a place where visitors can meet, relax, eat, worship, meditate, and shoot hoops. As I said, versatile. 

Opened to the public just last October, the centerpiece of Grace Farms is referred to as the “River,” a serpentine, flat-ceilinged open-air structure that is built into the landscape. The River consists of several “volumes,” enclosed glass spaces that house a farm-to-table café, an Asian-inspired tea service, an amphitheater, and a library with a collection reflecting the five initiatives of Grace Farms: nature, arts, community, faith, and social justice.

The premises also include an organic garden, walking trails, and two renovated horse stables that serve as classrooms, offices, and meeting spaces for Grace Community Church and compatible non-profits in need of a physical space. Attendees of the New Canaan–based church bought the property in 2007 and later created the fully independent Grace Farms Foundation.

From the beginning, the Grace Farms mantra was to “sit lightly on the land.” Designed by Japanese architectural firm SANAA fresh off their Pritzker Prize win, the structure is fully integrated into the hillside. Also, it is LEED certified (a green-building certification program), with geothermal heating and cooling, an abundance of low-iron insulated windows, and other high-efficiency internal systems. Wood elements incorporated throughout provide a sense of warmth and absorb sound. Tables for the Commons (café) were even built from trees harvested onsite. 

Sharon Prince, project visionary and president of the Grace Farms Foundation board of directors, says, “We believe that nature not only draws a wide spectrum of people together, but it can also inspire a sense of awe and shift attention away from ourselves. We like to describe Grace Farms as a type-B experience for our type-A world.”

Every detail of the endeavor was considered through this lens. And the area is the perfect resource for all things natural. The menu offered at the Commons includes several locally sourced items such as cheese from Plum Plums and products from Healing Home Foods, both in Pound Ridge. 

Commons Manager (aka head chef) Neena Perez believes that fresh, seasonal ingredients are king. “When I put the menu together, one of my goals was to spotlight local purveyors,” says Perez. “People come for the scenery, but now they also come for the food.”

While Grace Farms trumpets its accessibility (visitors pay only for food and select programming), this “no strings attached” policy raises eyebrows. But Prince insists the real policy is “come one, come all.” She says, “Grace Farms is a new kind of public space, created as a gift. It has always been important to us for everyone to feel welcome.”  


A “river” building runs through it.  The lovely, alluring serpentine structure (pictured left) was designed by SANAA architects.

 

For tickets to the Green Awards celebration click here

For a compete list of Green Award winners

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