Nature meets innovation at Grace Farms

Save for the dull hum of the occasional car driving by on Route 123, Grace Farms is serene.

The 80 acres in New Canaan is mostly a grassy expanse dotted with trees, ponds, paths and meadowlands. But there’s a courtyard in which you can barbecue and old horse barns — flanked by the original paddocks — that have been transformed into learning and office facilities as well as a rehearsal space and lounge.

Most prominent, however, is a serpentine glass building that undulates with the land and is sure to become one of the most iconic pieces on the property. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Tokyo-based firm SANAA, the River Building, as it’s known, is an 83,000-square-foot space, whose transparency harmonizes with nature as it lets nature in.

The space has five distinctive zones — a 700-seat sanctuary for faith services, concerts and events; a library with an adjoining conference room; a common room with furniture to accommodate study, reading or conversation; a pavilion that houses a welcome center; and a gymnasium bordered by computer rooms.

“Grace Farms is truly a place for everyone,” says Sharon Prince, president of the Grace Farms Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns the site that is set to open Oct. 9. “We hope it becomes a place where diverse communities join together for good, creating unexpected outcomes.”

Before the foundation bought the property of the former Windsome Farms equestrian facility, it had been parceled into 10 lots for development. Since 2007, the acreage has been bought piecemeal in an effort to preserve the land. A group of individuals associated with Grace Community Church first bought 48 acres and then formed the foundation — started in 2009 — which eventually bought the rest of the property.

The foundation has designed its space to be a platform for certain components that will become fixtures of the estate. Grace Community Church has a permanent home at the site and will hold weekly services in the sanctuary. There are also five initiatives the foundation wants to facilitate — nature, arts, justice, community and faith.

The foundation hopes to engage the public and organizations to use the space for events, lectures and think-tank work in addition to personal time.

“To foster collaborations for the greater good, we’re providing nonprofit organizations with space grants to help them advance their mission, while also providing a place for peace,” Prince says.

One of the first of these events will be an anti-child trafficking initiative Nov. 5-6, as part of a bigger project by Krishna Patel, the director of justice initiatives, who joined the foundation in July after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut where she worked for 15 years.

Combating human trafficking, Patel says, encompasses a lot of multidisciplinary areas that the foundation looks to support while providing a platform for groups committed to ending that crime.

The foundation has also joined forces with a number of organizations that also overlap with the five initiatives, including the Domestic Violence Crisis Center and the music and art therapy group Arts for Healing, Prince says.

“With an engage-as-you-choose approach, we not only open our doors to our neighbors in Connecticut and New York towns but extend the invitation nationally and globally as well.”

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