Windhover Contemplative Center – Art, Nature, & Rammed Earth Architecture

Place: Stanford, CA, Country: United States
Stanford University
Architectural Design: Aidlin Darling Design

Windhover contemplative center, rammed earth building, Aidlin Darling Design, exterior 1

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

Stanford’s Windhover Contemplative Center – Art, Nature, and Rammed Earth Architecture

Opened in 2014, the Windhover Contemplative Center is a spiritual retreat and a highly sustainable building on Stanford University’s campus.
The center is housed in an innovative construction, mostly made of rammed earth and wood, designed by San Francisco-based architectural firm Aidlin Darling Design, founded by Joshua Aidlin and David Darling in 1998.

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

Windhover contemplative center, rammed earth building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 1

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

The paintings hang on exposed rammed earth walls that provide them a fascinating and totally appropriate backdrop. To get wall colors (mostly in the brown family) that didn’t interfere with those of the paintings, as well as to achieve the required structural strength, local subsoil was combined with sand, gravel, rhyolite powder, decomposed granite, and Portland cement.
After being poured into the formwork, the mixture was pounded to four-inch courses to create striated rammed earth walls up to twenty feet tall and two feet thick. Along with rammed earth for the walls, stained oak and hemlock were used for cladding ceilings and floors, weathered steel for various elements including the window frames, and locally-sourced stone for the external benches and other decorative elements.

Windhover contemplative center, rammed earth building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 2

Nathan Oliveira, “Diptych”, oil on canvas; in the gallery, the paintings are light naturally by several linear skylights; © Mattew Millman.

When walls, ceiling, and floor encounter a glass opening, they usually extend outwards, thus creating a geometric interplay that emphasizes the building’s openness and relationship with the landscape. Designed by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, the center’s outdoor area features a large reflecting pool, a circular labyrinth, an open-air contemplative space, a tall bamboo line, and an old oak grove.
Throughout the entire site, water is a recurrent feature as a reflecting pool to the 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 of the center accommodates some stone benches and a small fountain; photo © Mattew Millman. 

Windhover contemplative center at Stanford University, site plan

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

While the massive rammed earth walls provide a great thermal mass for temperature stabilization, vegetation, together with roof overhangs, creates passive shading and regulates the intensity of light in the indoor environment. Sustainable solutions for the Windhover Center also include skylights with motorized louvers, radiant-floor heating and cooling, and natural ventilation. Finally, a large part of the materials used – including the soil for the rammed earth walls and the stone used for the center’s benches – were sourced locally.

Windhover contemplative center, outdoor area with labyrinth

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

Windhover contemplative center, rammed earth building with paintings by Nathan Oliveira 3

The Windhover series of paintings by Nathan Oliveira is named after “The Windhover” sonnet by the British Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover contemplative center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design, sketch 1

A watercolor 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 tree grove is located to the east of the center; © Mattew Millman.

Windhover contemplative center, Stanford, Aidlin Darling Design 3

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

Windhover contemplative center, rammed earth 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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