The Windhover Contemplative Center, designed by Aidlin Darling Design, is a spiritual retreat on the Stanford campus to promote and inspire personal renewal. Using Nathan Oliveira’s meditative Windhover paintings as a vehicle, the center provides a refuge from the intensity of daily life. It is intended for quiet reflection throughout the day for any Stanford student, faculty, or staff member, as well as for members of the larger community.
Nathan Oliveira’s renowned Windhover series is named after “The Windhover,” a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877. The five paintings were inspired by kestrels swooping above the Stanford foothills. Oliveira felt the calming power of these works and believed they should hang together in a place set aside for contemplation.
The Center is conceived of as a unification of art, landscape and architecture to both replenish and invigorate the spirit.
The sanctuary is located in the heart of the campus, adjacent to a natural oak grove. 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.