Despite the moniker, Grace Farms is not an agricultural enterprise. The unique 80-acre campus in New Canaan, Conn., boasts a multiple award-winning and winding 83,000-square-foot building, while exemplary wayfinding by Pentagram (New York) helps guide all visitors in their exploration of nature, community and faith.
Grace Farms is an open-to-the-public social institution providing a place for people to experience nature, foster community, pursue social justice and explore the connections between art and faith. The beautiful landscape of lush, rolling meadows, woods and wetlands in New Canaan, Conn., is punctuated by a 1,400-foot-long building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architects SANAA known as “The River.”
Patterned after the shape of a winding river, the 2017 American Institute of Architects award and 2014/15 Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize-winning structure was formed from glass, wood and steel that undulates across the grounds. The enormous 83,000 square-foot facility provides amenities that include an auditorium, library, café and gym.
The concept for Grace Farms came from the idea that “space communicates” and can inspire people to collaborate for good. To realize this vision, Grace Farms Foundation set out to create a multipurpose building nestled into the existing habitat that would enable visitors to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community and explore faith.
With a seamless relationship between architecture and landscape, Grace Farms emerged as a restorative place and an active center for not-for-profit organizations and the general public to address core issues of today’s society.
Pentagram had done branding and exhibition work for the Glass House visitor center, which is also located in New Canaan. This existing connection helped the Pentagram team with the initial fundraising campaign work, after which they successfully pitched for the Grace Farms visual identity strategy and design, including nomenclature, collateral, merchandise, web presence, signage and wayfinding.
From the outset, the Pentagram team—led by Eddie Opara—was involved in both the strategic and tactical sides, beginning with creating the brand identity. The concept for the Grace Farms brand and its carefully-calibrated graphic standard was to incorporate visual cues from the architecture of the River building and embody the goals of the organization in a harmonious and intentionally graceful way.
The wordmark is set in a customized Darby Sans typeface creating sinuous, flowing letterforms. The identity development directly fed the experiential graphic design, packaging design and website development for Grace Farms.
It was essential to the Pentagram team to be involved at a granular level for every step of the process, because one of the main experiential design problems posed was how to support the institution’s mission while providing vital communication through seamlessly integrated signage. Because the setting is so quiet and spiritual, their explicit goal was to create a signage system that is visually lightweight, fluid and almost invisible, while providing effective navigation.
The environmental graphics extend the identity to a comprehensive system throughout the building and grounds, helping to create an atmosphere of reflection and openness. The extensive signage system includes, but is not limited to, exterior vehicular and pedestrian wayfinding, interior wayfinding, ADA, building and space identifiers, didactics and exhibition signage.
To maintain consistency across the breadth of applications, a material, color and typography package was strictly adhered to; however, each type of signage has its own distinct scale and placement to blend in with the architecture and landscape, creating a seamless experience.
“Through materials and a visual language we developed a design that is functional and sturdy but visually delicate. It literally reflects the natural landscape in front of you, and complements the River building by SANAA,” remarks Opara.
Like many elements within the building, the environmental graphics and signage employ a refined material palette. The Grace Farms signage system takes its inspiration from the sleek reflective roof of the building. Some lettering is directly pin-mounted to the concrete of the building, while other signage is created using vinyl applied to glass, preserving the openness and transparency in the architecture. The system also intentionally echoes the clean, uncluttered look of the Grace Farms website designed by Eddie Opara and his team.
The freestanding signs were constructed using a polished chrome core and legs, flanked by soft-brushed aluminum panels that have etched and filled white lettering. The signs appear lightweight, almost floating in space, quietly reflecting the surrounding greenery.
In order to enhance this visual effect, the thickness of the leg and core pieces was reduced to the absolute minimum possible. This process was one of the most challenging aspects of the project, but after many rounds of engineering and prototyping, the Pentagram team reached the desired result using 1-inch in diameter legs.
The Pentagram team has maintained a good relationship with the Foundation and have recently been commissioned for additional work, something for which Opara is enthusiastic about: “There are not many places in the world that are this unique, beautiful and brilliant as Grace Farms. Where one can experience nature, encourage community, harness social justice, and discover one’s connection between art and spirituality. Our design respects and represents all of these initiatives.”
Project Name: Grace Farms
Client: Grace Farms
Location: New Canaan, Conn.
Open Date: 2016
Project Area: 80 acres
Design Architect: SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa
Executive Architect: Handel Architects
Landscape Architect: OLIN
Overall Project Budget: $50 million
Experiential Design: Pentagram
Wayfinding Design Team: Eddie Opara (partner-in-charge, designer), Brankica Harvey (associate, designer), Ken Deegan (associate, designer), Pedro Mendes (designer, signage designer)
Placemaking and Identity Design Team: Eddie Opara (partner-in-charge, designer), Brankica Harvey (associate, designer), Pedro Mendes (designer, signage designer)
Fabrication: Design Communications Ltd., James Hannon
Photos: Pentagram and Grace Farms