Known for asymmetrical structures that subvert traditional rules of space, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, of renowned Tokyo-based architectural practice SANAA, are now bringing their forward-thinking vision to the verdant pastures of New Canaan, Connecticut. For the first time since winning the Pritzker Prize, in 2010, the firm returned to the USA to design Grace Farms, a spiritual center and community gathering space that opened in October 2015. We asked the architects to tell us about the meandering 83,000-square-foot facility.
Grace Farms offers faith-based programming, art installations, an area for communal dining, athletic facilities, and more—all open to the public. How did you create a structure that would feel welcoming to all?
If a building is surrounded with walls, so that one cannot see the inside, people feel uncomfortable entering unless they have things to do there. However, if you can see from the outside the bustle of people coming in and out, it feels a lot easier to enter. We thought that the feeling of activity and the motion of people would help foster and expand the community.
Were there any challenges with building the structure into the hillside?
It was not an easy task, as it is essentially a 3-D building. But in order to respect the beauty of the topography, we did not consider building a flat structure. We thought that a building built in accordance with the steep topography could create a more interesting relationship between nature and human beings.
Glass is commonly featured in your work. How did you use the material at Grace Farms?
By using a mix of both straight and curved pieces of glass, we aimed to create a soft and natural shape instead of a geometric shape, such as a square or a circle. Glass is both transparent and reflective, and we thought that, due to these two qualities, one could feel the harmony between architecture and nature.
How is being an architect in 2015 different than it was in 1995, when you started your practice?
In Japan in 1995, we were in the middle of a terrible economic depression, but at the same time, it was a period when architecture was an important part of the capitalism movement. Now, after the economic crisis and the Tohoku earthquake of 2011, the situation has changed a lot. Of course, there are buildings built for economic rationales, but there are also buildings created to support community and local areas. We have entered an era of diversity, when architecture is not measured according to only one criterion.