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Windhover Contemplative Center

Aidlin Darling Design

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Stanford University


  • Landscape Architect: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
  • Lighting Designer: Auerbach Glasow French
  • Structural Engineer: Rutherford & Chekene
  • Civil Engineer: BKF Engineers
  • General Contractor: SC Builders
  • Mechanical Engineer: Air Systems
  • Other: Charles Salter Associates
  • Other: Loisos + Ubbelohde
  • Electrical Engineer: Elcor
  • Other: Rammed Earth Works
  • Other: Guidepost Solutions

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Text by Katie Gerfen

College has always been stressful, and studies show it’s only getting worse: The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute recently found that first-year students’ sense of emotional well-being is at the lowest point since 1985; in a separate study, stress was identified as a top cause of concern for more than half of students who sought out mental health resources on campuses. At Stanford University, administrators decided to tackle the problem before it becomes just that, bringing on San Francisco–based Aidlin Darling Design to create the 4,000-square-foot Windhover Contemplative Center in the middle of the bucolic Silicon Valley campus.

Inspired by, and designed to showcase, the “Windhover” painting series by artist Nathan Oliviera, the rammed-earth structure creates a nondenominational sanctuary for relaxation and silent contemplation. The quiet compression of low-ceilinged, low-lit galleries gives way to the release of a tree-lined courtyard, a reflecting pool, a ginkgo and bamboo grove, and a labyrinth. At Windhover, Aidlin Darling brings to bear the same commingled understanding of the human spirit and command of elemental materials—the rammed-earth walls are complemented by glass, Cor-Ten steel, and stone—that the firm has brought to bear in such projects as San Francisco’s Bar Agricole and a yoga retreat in the Sonoma Valley. Now the students, faculty, and staff of Stanford have a place to escape the daily rigors of university life and ease the stress that affects so many, so adversely.

Project Credits
Project: Windhover Contemplative Center, Stanford, Calif.
Client/Owner: Stanford University
Architect/Interior Designer: Aidlin Darling Design, San Francisco . Joshua Aidlin (principal-in-charge); David Darling, AIA (principal); Roslyn Cole, AIA (project manager); Kent Chiang, AIA (project architect); Melinda Turner, Michael Pierry, Jeff LaBoskey (project team)
Mechanical Engineer: Air Systems
Structural/Geotechnical Engineer: Rutherford + Chekene
Electrical Engineer: Elcor Electric
Civil Engineer: BKF Engineers
General Contractor: SC Builders
Landscape Architect: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
Lighting Designer: Auerbach Glasow French
Acoustical: Charles M. Salter Associates
Size: 4,000 square feet
Cost: Withheld

This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of ARCHITECT magazine.

Read all of ARCHITECT's coverage of the 2016 AIA Honor Awards

Project Description

A small haven of serenity on a vast, busy campus, the facility is a composition of art, nature and architecture whose sole purpose is peaceful enjoyment.

Intended to promote and inspire personal renewal, the center houses a set of paintings inspired by the birds and landscape of the naturally resplendent campus. With an oak grove as its neighbor, the building is a vessel for the paintings and for the thoughtful repose of university students, faculty and staff.

A glass wall on the building's east side opens to views through the grove to a sculpture garden. Natural light and ventilation infuse the interior with elements of the world outside, and finishes such as flooring were kept dark to minimize the intrusion of artifice into users' experience. The plashing of fountains and louvered skylights above bring in filtered light; thick, rammed-earth walls contribute to the sense of being in a secluded, protective oasis.

Even the building’s systems contribute to the goal of quiet contemplation. Heating and cooling comes from a radiant system in the floor, and because ventilation is a natural flow-through from north-facing intake to south-facing outlet, there are no noisy or vibrating mechanicals to interfere with the quietude.
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