SANAA’s goal was to make the architecture of the River become part of the landscape without drawing attention to itself, or even feeling like a building, with the hope that those who are on the property will have a greater enjoyment of the beautiful environment and changing seasons through the spaces and experience created by the River. Under the continuous roof are five transparent glass-enclosed volumes that can host a variety of activities and events, while maintaining a constant sense of the surrounding natural environment. In sequence, they are:
Sanctuary: a 700-person sanctuary/indoor amphitheater (20,900 sf)
Library: a staffed library with resources to research nature, the arts, justice, and faith. It includes a glass-enclosed conference room and fireplace for discussion and hospitality, as well as Grace Farms Foundation offices. (4,550 sf)
Commons: a community space, with capacity for 300, with communal tables built from trees harvested on-site, sofas, a fireplace, and expansive views. Fresh food and beverages are available for purchase, and a lower level accommodates a lecture hall and ancillary spaces. (14,400 sf)
Pavilion: a staffed welcome reception where visitors can be oriented to Grace Farms, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or listen to intimate musical performances (950 sf)
Court: a partially below-grade gymnasium/multi-purpose space with adjoining media lab and game room, for recreation, youth activities, receptions, and arts performances (16,900 sf)
Barn: The original barn was renovated to serve as a welcome center with a greeting space in each of its two wings. The barn will also house many of the day-to-day programs, with classrooms, an art studio, a rehearsal space with sprung floor, offices, a lounge, a nursery, and a drop-off food pantry to support the justice program.
"One of the most compelling things about SANAA is the way they use glass to break down barriers between people. Using glass in this way helps redefine how people share spaces."
—Sharon Prince, Grace Farms Foundation President
"The foundation’s vision for the River was to create a place that sat lightly on the land and would build a community. Not a tower or a beacon, but a modest structure that would embrace people."
Nestled into the rolling landscape of Grace Farms, the River begins on a knoll and then flows down the long, gentle slope (a change in grade of 43 ft) in a series of bends, forming pondlike spaces on its journey. Structurally, the building of glass, concrete, steel, and wood is in essence a single long roof, which seems to float above the surface of the ground as it twists and turns across the landscape. The walkways, courtyards, and glasswrapped volumes that form beneath the roof are remarkably transparent and invite people to engage with the expansive natural surroundings.
See videos below for more on beams, glass, concrete, geothermal wells, and milling.
Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA describes the basic River building framing, composed of repeating units of Glu-Lam exposed timber beams supported by columns, with each beam tilted to follow the slope of the site and the distance between units changing slightly.
Fifty-five 500-foot-deep geothermal wells have been drilled on the property for heating and cooling of the River building.
Wood harvested from tree-removal on site yielded oak, ash, birch, beech, hickory poplar, and black locust, which was used to make furniture throughout the River.
The building will be LEED certified. LEED credits are being sought for:
High-efficiency mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems
Commissioning of building energy systems
Low-heat island effect (from the reflective aluminum roof)
Energy efficient glazing system
Preventions of construction activity pollution and waste management
Monitoring of air quality and energy use
Other sustainability measures are:
On-site milling and kiln-drying of trees that were cleared for construction, used to construct indoor and outdoor furniture
Construction and use of geothermal wells
Addition of a dry hydrant at the upper pond on the adjacent property to provide 3 million gallons of water for community fire department use
Provision of a 50,000-gallon water storage tank for the River that can also be used to fight fires in the local community
Hiring of subcontractors that all have their head offices within a 75-mile radius, with most within 45 miles
Purchasing of much of the lumber from local sources by the carpentry subcontractor