Most everyone is familiar with the standard university typologies — lecture halls, dorms, libraries, gyms, student centers, etc. — but how many campuses can boast a "contemplative center?" San Francisco-based Aidlin Darling Design has recently completed The Windhover Contemplative Center at Stanford University, a uniquely programmed building meant expressly as a spiritual retreat for the university's students, faculty, and staff. Aidlin Darling Design worked with fellow National Design Award-winning firm Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture to design the one-story, 4,000-square-foot building and its surroundings.
Artist Nathan Oliveira’s meditative Windhover paintings are the focus of the place, which combines the characteristics of a spiritual sanctuary, an art gallery, and a contemplative garden. “In a world culture that focuses on speed and instantaneous access, Stanford has gifted their students and faculty a place to re-center themselves and find balance in their lives,” said Joshua Aidlin, founding partner of Aidlin Darling Design.
The Center is located at the heart of the campus, adjacent to a natural oak grove. Inspired by the Rothko Chapel, the Windhover space merges art, landscape, and architecture into a relaxing sensorial and meditative experience. A long, private garden acts as an extended threshold, preparing visitors as they escape the outside world. Thick, rammed-earth walls and dark wood surfaces frame views, but also complement the environment through texture.
The exterior is as important as the interior, as it allows the public to use the space around-the-clock. The building's transparency and permeability blend inside and outside, while allowing visitors to seek contemplative refuge by viewing the art without entering the building. Fountains add to the landscape and provide ambient sound, while a still reflecting pool reflects the surrounding trees. Walking around the building and its landscape gives the opportunity for users to walk off their stresses. Louvered skylights shine let in the sun so that no artificial lights are needed in the daytime, a concept inspired by Renzo Piano's Nasher Sculpture Center and his Menil Collection.
The design of the center is an extension of the firm's larger body of work that takes phenomenology into the 21st century. They won a prestigious James Beard Award for their Bar Agricole, a San Francisco eatery that exemplifies their balanced approach to connecting architecture and the senses through materials and light. Partner David Darling cites the influence of the late Cincinnati architect and educator David Niland, who saw the "body as vehicle for the senses," a concept that has had lasting effect on their work — the Windhover Contemplative Center is no exception.