Letter: New England charm, innovative architecture
Updated 12:42 pm, Tuesday, January 3, 2017
To the Editor:
What New Canaan has is extraordinary. Twice in the last 75 years, the town has been on the cutting edge, moving forward, keeping current without losing the essence of unique New England traditions.
The first began in the 1950s, spearheaded by the so-called Harvard Five’s mid-century modern houses. The second is now with Grace Farms — a new type of public-oriented facility.
At first glance, the mid-century moderns seemed like a major break from wonderful Victorian houses of the 1800s. However, in important ways, they continued New England sensibilities. Traditional houses were individually designed, sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of the land — both for farming necessities and the use of sun/wind for heating/cooling. They were scaled to the surrounding trees and hills. The town center remained concentrated, providing community vibrancy.
With moderns, New Canaan extended these sensibilities. Other towns opted for tract housing, scale-less, cheek-by-jowl repeats with no environmental sensitivity. Towns grew unabated along strip roads, catering to automobiles, losing density and public interaction. Where’s the New England in that?
Now, New Canaan is again on the cutting edge, extending tradition into the 21st century. With insight from Grace Farms Foundation and SANAA (architects), the land remains dominant to the building. And Grace Farms learns from the mid-century moderns — specifically from the Glass and Noyes houses -- glass enclosure in the first, giving 360-degree views, and separation of public/private in the latter, experiencing nature while walking from one to the other.
But Grace Farms does more.
In old New England towns, churches, mills and, later, libraries were public centers. Grace Farms provides a new venue. With its five-part mission, free and open to the public with education rooms, community, contemplative and sports areas, people go simply to hang out — and experience the vibrancy.
New Canaan should be celebrating.
Grace Farms is unique, drawing new people to the town, supporting downtown commercial enterprises while invigorating town life. It is a win for the town; it is a win for business. Most of all, it is a win for the people. It is, after all, for the people, to enhance their lives, for which towns exist at all.