One of the distinguishing features of mid-century modernism is its ability to eliminate boundaries between nature and architecture.
Perhaps nowhere else in the country has modernism come to so significantly impact a town’s history, as well as its architectural character, then in In New Canaan, Connecticut. A recent Thrillist article provides an overview of the “impressive collection of cutting-edge mid-century architecture” and how it was influenced by a group of accomplished architects who settled in the town. They were known as the Harvard Five.
This October, the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society showcases this impressive collection with architectural tours, exhibitions, and lectures on how this boundary-defying architecture influenced architects and designers. New Canaan’s visionary architecture was shaped by architectural legends including Eliot Noyes, Philip Johnson, and Marcel Breuer, where they envisioned removing the boundaries between nature and architecture, instinctually blending architecture into the surrounding bucolic landscapes. More than 100 mid-century modern homes were built between 1949 and 1973, and to this day, this approach to architecture has left a distinct influence on New Canaan’s community.
To understand and experience mid-century modernism’s impact on design, the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society has launched October4design, a celebration of celebration of architecture, art, design, and community.
Included in October4Design is Grace Farms’ October 14 tour of “Behind the Scenes River Building Interiors” with our Architecture Advisor Toshihiro Oki, who worked with SANAA during the River building’s design. He will provide insights about the thought behind seating design selections, sustainably-sourced surfaces, responsive plans, and more.
Sharon Prince, CEO and Founder of Grace Farms Foundation, envisioned a new kind of public space that would inspire and break down barriers between people and stimulate new perspectives and outcomes. “I was thinking all the time about how space could be a catalyst for good. And, how people could activate it so that the space could be generative and so that it could all accelerate over time. I adopted the belief that architecture, when activated, can play a significant role in a more just and equitable world. One of the fundamental barriers to equity is being in the proximity to people and issues,” she said in a 2021 interview with Madame Architect.
“I adopted the belief that architecture, when activated, can play a significant role in a more just and equitable world.” – Sharon Prince
The River building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, created the building as a seamless whole, where the physical presence retreats into 80 acres of natural and preserved landscapes.
Inside any one of the five glass-enclosed volumes that host a variety of activities and events related to our work, there is a constant connection with the natural environment. The long roof follows the topography of the landscape – rolling and expansive vistas filled with trees, meadows, woodlands, and other biodiverse habitats that support wildlife and pollinators, including more than 100 species of birds.
Hopeful Spaces Matter
While Grace Farms’ River building has been recognized for its architectural excellence, this unique space has also become widely known for creating unpresented outcomes. Grace Farms has become a model of sustainability that resulted in two LEED certifications, including the prestigious silver certification for Building Operations and Maintenance. Some of the achievements include installing 55 geothermal wells to heat and cool 80% of the River building and waste reduction through ongoing recycling and composting.
In 2020, Prince launched Design for Freedom, a global movement to create a radical paradigm shift to remove forced labor from the built environment. She has galvanized more than 100 global leaders to put Design for Freedom on the industry’s agenda, initiated eight Pilot Projects, launched the Design for Freedom Summit, and introduced Design for Freedom across universities and colleges around the world, including Yale and Princeton University.
And in 2021, Grace Farms Foods, a public benefit LLC, and a Certified B Corp, 100% owned by Grace Farms Foundation, was launched. Certified B Corps are a select group of companies held to high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency. Adhering to such high standards was a way to demonstrate that the ethical and sustainable sourcing of tea and coffee free of forced labor was possible. It was also another way to teach the public, as well as corporations, to share in something greater: 100% of the profits from Grace Farms Foods support Design for Freedom to eliminate forced labor worldwide.
As Prince leads a female-forward, boundary-defying team, she continues to accelerate the work of Grace Farms by inviting the best minds across the public and private sectors to consider various perspectives to our most challenging issues.
The importance of building relationships and working together is reflected in Teresita Fernandez’s Double Glass River. A permanent installation in the River building’s Commons is emblematic of how we are all connected. Fernandez’s piece composed of 10,000 glass cubes reflects the changing landscape shows our many points of connections
Our connection to architecture and nature will further be explored in the October4design events, including an examination of midcentury modernist Myron Goldfinger and her extensive body of work. In addition, interior designer Christina Roughan and architect Thomas Kligerman will share how their work links interior design and architecture. And Frederick Noyes, son of the Harvard Five’s Eliot Noyes, will discuss why mid-modern architecture is so important and why we keep going back to look at this period.
About Grace Farms
We bring together people across sectors to explore nature, arts, justice, community, and faith at the SANAA-designed River building on 80 acres of publicly accessible, preserved natural landscape. Grace Farms, with its open architecture, breaks down barriers between people and sectors and invites conversation, curiosity, and proximities. This collaborative approach to comprehensively address humanitarian issues and generate new outcomes is reflected across all of our initiatives and the place of Grace Farms.
Become a member
Grace Farms members enjoy special access to member-only events, experiential activities, and thought-provoking programs — and the opportunity to be a part of our mission to pursue a more peaceful world.
Learn more at gracefarms.org/membership
Visit our calendar of events to learn more about upcoming programs.
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