Some buildings are sympathetic to nature. Others are open to nature. But the River, the latest project from SANAA, is practically a part of nature. As the name suggests, the building’s organic shape resembles a stream meandering peacefully through its idyllic setting. Conversely, the experience of this bucolic place, 80 acres of Connecticut countryside, is enhanced by the River’s calming presence. Viewed through SANAA’s curved glass walls, the sky looks somehow bluer, the trees somehow greener, and the landscape all the more magnificent.

Located in New Canaan, the River belongs to the Grace Farms Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 2009 that asked the Pritzker-Prize-winning firm from Tokyo to create a building that embodies its mission as a place where people can “experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith.” The foundation aimed to preserve this unspoiled parcel in perpetuity and share it with the public. Originally a patchwork of small farms, the property had fallen into the clutches of a developer who had it rezoned for a 10-lot subdivision. After saving the land from that fate, the foundation began the international search for a designer that led them to SANAA.

What the client wanted was a building that would disappear in nature. This description piqued the interest of SANAA principals, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, whose works can be so light and ethereal that they barely seem like buildings at all. In response, the duo began searching for a strategy to fit the project on the site. Though the land was largely open, it was saddled with a number of restrictions, such as areas occupied by woodlands, wetlands, and horse paddocks that the client wanted to keep. “The landscape is just as much a part of the program, as the building,” explains Sharon Prince, president of the Grace Farms Foundation. The architects also had to wrestle with the needs of a complicated set of users, including select community and nonprofit groups, and the Grace Community Church. Plus they had to integrate commissioned installations by five artists: Olafur Eliasson, Susan Philipsz, Thomas Demand, Teresita Fernandez, and Beatriz Milhazes.
SANAA answered this complexity with simplicity. The firm proposed a long, snaking roof and placed each programmatic piece in its own glass-enclosed volume underneath. Between and around these indoor elements, the canopy-like structure yields covered but essentially outdoor spaces—an ambiguity deeply rooted in Japanese architecture.
Making the roof work, though, was anything but simple. Low and flat, it follows the lay of the land, switching back and forth for approximately 1,400 feet as it flows down the hilly site. At the same time, its width expands to a maximum of 150 feet and contracts to a minimum of 25 feet as it incorporates the glazed spaces: a 700-seat sanctuary-cum-amphitheater at the highest point of the property, followed by a library, a generous dining and living room called the Commons, a pavilion for welcoming visitors, and a sunken gymnasium. The only opaque elements are small volumes holding washrooms and offices and support rooms tucked underground. Hugging the ground, a sloped and stepped exterior walkway mirrors the roof and negotiates the site’s 44-foot drop. Additional studio space for art and dance, plus the church’s administrative functions occupy a separate SANAA-renovated horse barn and paddock. At the barn compound, SANAA removed the building’s central portion to create an outdoor courtyard and reworked rows of stables on either side for use by the public and church members.
In contrast, the 83,000-square-foot River neither looks nor behaves like a conventional building. Though incorporated into the overall form, each volume acts as an autonomous mini-building with its own entrances. “We asked for no front door,” says Prince. Since the various spaces are connected externally, it is necessary to go outside to get from place to place—an acceptable condition in Japan where the climate is relatively forgiving. Within each volume, a geothermal HVAC system keeps the temperature comfortable. Double-paned window walls help too.
Unsurprisingly, the main purpose of the glass is to open the interior visually to the outdoors. To maximize transparency, SANAA specified low-iron glass, thin stainless-steel sash, and silicon joints for the project’s 203 mostly curved panes that were custom made in Spain. The floor-to-ceiling panes are 7 to 8 feet wide and trapezoidal in shape to accommodate the sloping roof. Working with the topography, each see-through volume is shaped and oriented to offer panoramic views in various directions. “We wanted to make diverse experiences between people and nature,” explains Sejima, who collaborated with landscape architects Olin on the site work and Larry Weaner Landscape Associates on restoring mowed areas into meadows. While a few trees had to be felled, some were reborn as communal dining tables designed by SANAA.
Though SANAA buildings tend to favor glass and steel, wood plays a starring role in the River. A first for the firm, the building is supported by a hybrid structure made of steel columns and timber beams. While glulam beams and steel trusses support wood ceilings above individual volumes, some 200 portals composed of vertical columns and sloping beams, each one different, hold up the roof. Though the roof curves in three dimensions, it is made of two-dimensional elements: anodized aluminum sheets measuring 2-by-20 feet on top, cedar fascia, and 3-inch-wide strips of Douglas fir for the underside. Following SANAA’s direction, the contractors diligently laid out the planks, aligning their joints at matching angles as the roof turns and cascades downhill. “The carpenters were very patient,” remarks Sejima with a smile.
Although it stretches out for more than a quarter mile, the River makes no attempt at monumentality or grandeur. But in the elegant way the building coexists with nature, SANAA achieves something far more sublime'a project that seems destined to become one of its iconic works.


Client: Grace Farms Foundation, Inc.

Owner: Grace Farms Foundation, Inc.

Kazuyo Sejima+Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA
1-5-27 Tatsumi, Koto-ku
Tokyo, 135-0053 Japan
TEL: +81 (0)3 5534 1780
FAX: +81 (0)3 5534 1757

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Kazuyo Sejima (principal)
Ryue Nishizawa (principal)
Shohei Yoshida (project architect)

Architect of record:
Handel Architects
150 Broadway 11th Floor
New York, NY
(212) 595-4112

Frank Fusaro, Principal
Peter Miller, Senior Associate
(212) 994-2041

Owner’s Representative/Project Direction:
Paratus Group
568 Broadway Suite 602
New York, NY 10012
(212) 334-7700
Andrew Klemmer, Principal
Pamela Torres, Project Director

SAPS/Sasaki and Partners
Mutsuro Sasaki, Principal

Robert Silman Associates
32 Old Slip, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10005
(212) 620-7970
Nat Oppenheimer, Executive Vice President
Taehoo Kim, Senior Engineer

McChord Engineering
1 Grumman Hill Road, Wilton, CT 06897
(203) 834-0569
Holt McChord, Principal

BuroHappold Engineering | MEP
100 Broadway, New York, NY 10005
(212) 334-2025
Simon Looi, Associate, (212) 616-0388

BuroHappold Engineering | Lighting
100 Broadway, New York, NY 10005
(212) 334-2025
Gabe Guilliams, Associate Principal, (212) 616-0378

Public Ledger Building, Suite 1123
150 South Independence Mall West
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 440-0030

Dennis McGlade, Partner
Eve Kootchick, Associate

Larry Weaner Landscape
43 Limekiln Pike, Suite 100
 Glenside, PA  19038
(215) 886-9740
Larry Weaner

134 Spring Street, Suite 601
New York, NY 10012
(212) 219-2255
Matthias Rudolph, Project Engineer

Building Envelope:
Michael Ra, Partner, (415) 202-5796
Jeffrey Kock (646) 300-0224

Wood Science Specialists, Inc.
453 Wendell Road, Shutesbury, MA 01072
(413) 259-1661
Stephen Smulski, President

Reginald Hough Associates
115 Montgomery Street, Rhinebeck, NY 12572
(845) 876-1048
Reginald Hough

Geotechnical Engineer:
Langan Engineering
555 Long wharf Road, New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 562-5771
Lee Chrisman, Senior Engineer, (203) 784-3075

Geothermal Designer:
Alderson Engineering
407 Lakeside Park, Southampton, PA 18966
(215) 364-5635
Howard Alderson, Principal
Neal Babcock

Harvey Marshall Berling Associates
173 West 81st Street, Suite 2, New York, NY 10024
(212) 874-0214
David Harvey, Partner

Nagata Acoustics
Hongo-Segawa, Bldg, 3F, 2-35-10 Hongo Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
+81 (0)3 5800-2671
Satoru Ikeda, President

204 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010
(212) 683-7000
A.Edward Opara, Partner

Soils and Wetlands:
Environmental Planning Services
89 Belknap Road, West Hartford, CT 06117
(860) 236-1578
Michael Klein, Principal

Conservation Planning and Herpetologist:
Michael W. Klemens LLC
PO Box 432, Falls Village CT 06031
Michael W. Klemens, principal

Genesys Engineering
38 Maiden Lane, Kingston, NY 12401
Steve Joern, Vice President
Mark Soukup, Project Manager / Senior Commissioning Engineer

Construction Manager:
14 Wall Street 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10005
(212) 232-2200
Jay Gorman, Project Manager

Dean Kaufman (718) 857-3848
Jeff Goldberg (212) 463-0603
Iwan Baan (347) 525-1554, +31 (6) 5463 0468


Gross Square Footage:

83,000 gross square feet for the River (enclosed areas plus covered path); 17,000 gross square feet for the barns.


Total Project Cost:

$83 million


Construction Cost:

$67 million


Completion Date:

October 2015



Structural system
Concrete, Foundations & Slabs
Villa Construction Inc.
189 Brady Avenue, Hawthorne, NY 10532
(914) 747-3277
Italo DiNunzio

Steel Superstructure & Ornamental Metals
QSR Steel
300 Locust Street, Hartford, CT 06114
(860) 548-0248
Scott Michaud

Custom Curved Beams
Chicago Metal Rolled Products
3715 S Rockwell Street, Chicago, IL

Glue-Laminated Beams & Trusses
Structurlam Wood Products
2176 Government Street, Penticton, BC V2A 8B5, Canada
(250) 492-8912
Kris Spickler

Tripyramid Structures Inc.
59 Power Road, Westford, MA

Exterior cladding
Glass Curtain Wall
Roschmann Konstruktionen aus Stahl und Glas GmbH
Dieselstr, 41, D-86368, gersthofen, Germany
Dieter Roschmann, President, +49 (0)821 49006-760

Roschmann Steel & Glass Constructions Inc.
319 Peck Street, New Haven, CT 06513 [in the contract]
Martin Wolgschaft, President, (203) 891-7455

Pol. Ind. Coll de la Manya., 08403 Granollers (Barcelona) España
+34 938 404 470
Ferran Figuerola, President
Wood Soffits & Carpentry
Penlyn Construction Corporation
16 Burnside Avenue, Congers, NY 10920
(845) 268-5445
Scott Dianis

Wood Fascia Veneer
Legere Group Ltd.
80 Darling Drive, Avon, CT 06001
(860) 674-0392
Steve Hass

Robert McKinlay Mason Contractor, Inc.
12 Park Avenue, Conger, NY 10920
(845) 268-9603
Bob McKinlay, President

Architectural Concrete
See Concrete, Foundations and Slabs

Rainscreen Roof
A. Zahner Company
1400 East Ninth Street, Kansas City, MO 64106
(816) 474-8882
Randy Stratman, Design Engineer, (816) 423-8345

Roofing (Liquid-Applied + Foam + Silicone)
F. J. Dahill Company Inc. [Installer]
176 Forbes Avenue, New Haven, CT
(203) 469-6454
Jamie McAdam

See Curtain Wall

See Curtain Wall

Extra Vega Milano | New York
Via Pietro Nenni 9, 20037
Paderno Dugnano, Milan, Italy
+39 (02) 9904 3444
350 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018
(347) 706-1823
Antonio Rillosi, Executive Manager

Metal & Wood Doors
Curries Company
1502 12th Street NW, Mason City, IA

Entrance Door Hardware

Metal & Wood Door Hardware
Assa Abloy Family of Companies

Interior finishes
Acoustical Ceilings
999 South A Street, Springfield OR 97477
(541) 988-9990
Charles C. Coury, General Manager, (541) 543-4099
Baswa Acoustic North America, LLC
21863 Aurora Road, Cleveland, OH

Cabinetwork and Custom Woodwork
See Wood Fascia Veneer

Paints and stains
Sherwin Williams Family of Companies

Curved Metal Doors, Hardware, Drywall, Plaster and Gypsum, Paint, Toilet Fixtures & Accessories
Nosal Industries, Inc.[Installer]
21 Meadow Road Suite A-4, Clinton, CT 06413
(860) 669-5883
Marty Nosal, Owner
Brian Butler

Floor and Wall Tile
American Floor Covering Inc. [Installer]
110 Batson Drive, Manchester, CT 06042
(860) 474-1110
Peter Neikrie
Ann Sacks[Toilets]
37 E 18th Street, New York, NY
Nemotile Company Inc.[Kitchens & Toilets]
48 E 21st Street, New York, NY
Bisazza Mosaico[Toilets]
508 W 20th Street, New York, NY

Concrete Topping Slabs
DJ Rossetti Inc.
2452 U.S. 9 #304, Malta, NY
(518) 899-8150
David Rossetti, Owner

Wood Flooring
Haywood Berk Floor Company
414 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012
(212) 242-0047
Roger Berk, Owner

Wood Ceilings
See Wood Soffits & Carpentry

Floor Hatches
The Bilco Company
P.O. Box 1203, New Haven, CT

Camsan Electrical Contractors Inc.
15 Halloween Blvd., Stamford, CT 06902
(203) 327-1120
Robert Allan

1212 Studio Inc.[Custom Fixtures]
250 East 87th Street, Suite 16A, New York, NY
Tommy Voeten, President, (212) 831-3785

Crenshaw Lighting[Custom Fixtures]
592 Paradise Lane, Floyd, VA
Danielle Volpe, NY rep, (212) 736-3700
B-K Lighting

Dimming System and Lighting Controls
Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc.
ETC Midwest
3031 Pleasant View Rd., PO Box 620979, Middleton, WI 53562
(608) 831-4116
Aaron Bertsch, Project Manager, (888) 908-2152

ThyssenKrupp Elevator America
100 Clark Drive, Units C & D, East Berlin, CT 06023
Kevin Archambeault, New Equipment Sales Rep, (401) 641-8178

HVAC & Plumbing
F & F Mechanical Enterprises, Inc.[Installer]
2 Dwight Street, North Haven, CT 06473
Frank Ferucci, Vice President, (203) 239-7025
Joe Ferrucci
Oasis International

Building Automation System
Automated Building Systems, Inc.[Installer]
26 Kreiger Lane, Glastonbury, CT
16201 25th Avenue W, Lynnwood, WA

Landscaping and Sitework
Steven Dubner Landscaping, Inc.
140 Half Hollow Road, Dix Hills, NY 11746
(631) 777-1800
Steven Dubner, Owner
Mike Mainland

Geothermal Wells
Connecticut Wells, Inc.
49 Hard Hill Road North, Bethlehem, CT 06751
(203) 266-5272
Anthony Ganio, President (800) 344-7989

Amec Construction
145 Main Street, Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 642-3530
Peter Arcoma

Custom Harvested Wood Tables
Troy City Wood Work
P.O. Box 279 │ 394 Kilburn Street, Fall River, MA 02724
(508) 679-8479
Brendan Kinnane, Owner

Custom Sanctuary Chairs
Moser Contract │ Thosmoser
72 Wright’s Landing, Auburn, ME 04210
(207) 784-3332
Aaron Moser, Director, (207) 330-3161

Custom Lecture Hall Seating
151 Wooster Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10012
Jennifer May, National Sales Director, (917) 374-1661

Precast Concrete Fireplaces & BBQ pit
Get Real Surfaces Concrete
143 W 29th St #1100, New York, NY 10001
(212) 414-1620
Avis Bishop

Drapery and Tracks
Draperies, Inc.
226 Main Street, Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 847-4553
Jim Olbrys

Design Communications, Ltd. (DCL)
153 West 27th Street Suite 707, New York, NY 10001
(212) 255-3226
Lauren Vallier, Project Executive

Interior Glass & Mirrors
Cherry Hill Glass Co., Inc.
20 Elm Street, Branford, CT 06405
(203) 483-1717
Matt Johnson

Toilet Partitions
Thrislington Cubicles
Prince William Ave, Deeside CH5 2QZ, United Kingdom
38 Third Ave 100W, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA 02129
(617) 681-6762
Sarah Schnorrenberg

Barn Doors and Windows
Marvin Doors & Windows

Food Service Equipment
Singer Equipment Co.
181 Washington Avenue, Fort Lee, NJ 07024
(201) 384-8877
Michelle Marzullo

Nationwide Security Corporation
47 Montowese Avenue, North Haven, CT 06473
(203) 785-0300
Rick Mut

Thermal Insulation
EcoLogic Energy Solutions
48 Union Street Suite 1, Stamford, CT 06906
Lori Boersma

Spray-Applied Fireproofing
17 Canal Street, Pequabuck, CT 06781
(860) 582-9535
Tim Vellrath

Fire Suppression
Northeast Fire Protection, Inc.
178 Brady Avenue, Hawthorne, NY 10532
(914) 773-1960
Mark Nelson

See Stucco

CCM Construction Services, Inc.
54 Main Street │ 93 Triangle Street, Danbury, CT 06810
(203) 798-0801
William Bernhardt

Subgrade Waterproofing
Armani Restoration, Inc.
(860) 296-6811
Lou Iacobucci

Standard Demolition Services, Inc.
30 Nutmeg Drive, Trumbull, CT 06611
(203) 380-8300
Kevin Horrigan