Windhover Contemplative Center – Art, nature and clay architecture


View of the Windhover Contemplative Center from the reflecting pool on the south side of the building; © Mattew Millman.

Stanford Windhover Center for Contemplation – Art, Nature and Clay Architecture

Opened in 2014, Windhover Contemplative Center is a spiritual retreat and a highly sustainable building on the campus of Stanford University.
The center is housed in an innovative and highly sustainable building, mostly made of rammed earth and wood, designed by a San Francisco-based architectural firm Aidlin Darling Design, founded by Joshua Aidlin and David Darling.

Combining art gallery and meditation space, the 4,000 square foot / 370 square meter center takes its name from Windhover Paint Series by Californian artist and professor at Stanford University Nathan Oliveira (1928-2020).
The series, which includes six monumental oil paintings, is on display in the pavilion not as if it were a museum, but to inspire and complement the spiritual experience of visitors in what its architects describe as a “chapel-shaped center (which) offers a refuge from the intensity of everyday life and a space for quiet reflection”.

Windhover Contemplative Center, adobe building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 1

The adobe walls in the center provide an ideal backdrop for Nathan Oliveira’s abstract works, such as his oil painting “Bid Red” in this image; © Mattew Millman.

The paintings hang on the exposed adobe walls which provide them with a fascinating and entirely appropriate backdrop. To achieve wall colors (mainly in the brown family) that do not surpass those of paints, as well as to achieve the required compressive strength, the local basement was combined with sand, gravel, powder rhyolite, decomposed granite and Portland cement.
After being poured into the formwork, the mixture was ground in four inch layers to create ridged dirt walls up to twenty feet high and two feet thick. In addition to rammed earth for the walls, stained oak wood was used for the ceilings and floors, while the window frames are polished aluminum.

Windhover Contemplative Center, adobe building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 2

Oliveira’s work “Diptyque”; in the gallery, the paintings are for the most part naturally lit by several linear skylights; © Mattew Millma.

When the walls, ceiling, and floor meet a glass opening, they typically extend outward, creating a geometric interaction that emphasizes the building’s openness and its relationship to the landscape. Conceived by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture the centre’s outdoor space includes a large reflecting pool, a circular labyrinth, an outdoor contemplative space, a large bamboo line and an old oak grove.
Throughout the site, water is recurrent like a reflecting pool south of the main building and two small fountains, one installed inside the building and the other in the central patio.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Aidlin Darling Design, courtyard

The small courtyard in the center is furnished with benches and accommodates a small fountain; photo © Mattew Millman.

Windhover Contemplative Center at Stanford University, site map

Site map, image Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture courtesy of Aidlin Darling Design.

While massive adobe walls provide great thermal mass for temperature stabilization; vegetation, as well as roof overhangs, create passive shading and regulate the intensity of light in the indoor environment. Sustainable solutions for the Windhover center also include skylights with motorized louvers, radiant underfloor heating and cooling and natural ventilation. Finally, a large part of the materials used – including the earth of the adobe walls and the stone used for the benches in the center – were of local origin.

Windhover Contemplative Center, outdoor space with labyrinth

A view of the center from the circular “meditation maze” to the north; photo Linda. A. Cicero / Stanford News.

Windhover Contemplative Center, adobe building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 3

Nathan Oliveira’s Windhover series of paintings are named after the sonnet “The Windhover” by English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design, sketch 1

A sketch of the Windhover Contemplative Center by Aidlin Darling Design.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design

Natural elements and plants play an important role in creating a relaxed and calm atmosphere within the center; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design, garden

An old oak grove is located east of the center; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design 3

The Windhover Contemplative Center combines an art museum and spiritual retreat under one roof; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover contemplative center, adobe building, reflecting pool

Also used as a meditation aid, water can be found throughout the building in various forms, including a large reflecting pool to the south; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design 2

Photo © Mattew Millman.


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