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2016 MCHAP.emerge

Windhover Contemplative Center

Aidlin Darling Design

Stanford, CA, USA

October 2014


Joshua Aidlin, David Darling, Kent Chiang


Aidlin Darling Design (Architect) Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture (Landscape Architect) Rutherford & Chekene (Structural Engineer) Auerbach Glasow French (Lighting Designer) BKF Engineers (Civil Engineer) Loisos + Ubbelohde (Daylighting Consultants) Charles Salter Associates (Acoustical Consultant) Rammed Earth Works (Rammed Earth Contractor)


Sapna Marfatia


Matthew Millman


The chosen site of the new Contemplative Center was located in the heart of Stanford University's campus on a former parking lot adjacent to a natural oak grove. The remaining three adjoining lots housed a diverse set of programs ranging from historic dormitories to academic classrooms. The site was perfectly situated between academia and dorm life. The intent of the program provided by the University was to create a sanctuary for contemplation for the entire Stanford community at any hour of the day. A place to regain one's inner peace that was not at all affiliated with a specific religion. A sanctuary that provided reflection both inside a structure and within a given landscape. A place to experience art, architecture, and nature simultaneously.


“One must nurture the spirit identity within one's self in order to fully exist. The Windhover paintings are intended to assist people in centering themselves—and to allow the human spirit to fly." Nathan Oliveira - (Painter) 1928-2010 Nathan Oliveira created the Windhover series, inspired by the kestrels swooping above the Stanford foothills, to evoke the feeling of flight and detachment from the everyday; it was his wish that the paintings be displayed together in a place set aside for contemplation. Recognizing the need on campus for a space for students to relieve stress and gain a greater perspective of one's life and the world in general, Stanford University sought to create a non-denominational space for contemplation, a space that would be inspired by and display paintings from Oliveira's Windhover series. The University wanted to avoid creating a museum-like environment in search of a more organic space that engaged nature in some manner while providing a refuge from the intensity of daily life. The Contemplation Center was intended for quiet reflection throughout the day for any Stanford student, faculty, or staff member, as well as for members of the larger community. Following a thorough RFP process that started with twenty firms and narrowed to three, Aidlin Darling Design and Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture were chosen to design the Contemplative Center.


The Windhover Contemplative Center is conceived of as a unification of art, landscape and architecture to both replenish and invigorate the spirit. The extended progression to the building’s entry through a long private garden, sheltered from its surroundings by a line of tall bamboo, allows members of the Stanford community to shed the outside world before entering the sanctuary. Within, the space opens fully to the oak grove to the east and the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden beyond. Louvered skylights wash the monumental 15 to 30 foot long paintings in natural light. The remaining space is kept intentionally dark to focus the visitor’s attention on the naturally highlighted paintings and the landscape beyond. Thick rammed earth walls and wood surfaces further heighten the visitor’s sensory experience acoustically, tactilely, olfactorily, as well as visually. Water, in conjunction with landscape, is used throughout as an aid for contemplation; fountains within the main gallery and the courtyard provide ambient sound while a still reflecting pool to the south reflects the surrounding trees. Exterior contemplation spaces are integrated into the use of the center, allowing views to the natural surroundings as well as to the paintings within. From the oak grove to the east, visitors can view the paintings glowing within the center without accessing the building, effectively creating a sanctuary for the Stanford community day and night.

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