Located on the Stanford University campus, the single-story sanctuary completes the lifelong dream of artist Nathan Oliveira, who died in 2010 after teaching at Stanford for three decades. The team created a technology–free space for people in the Stanford community to relax and meditate. There is no Wi-Fi or cell-phone service.

The team used ancient construction techniques. Natural-color, rammed-earth walls, which form a backdrop for a series of the artist’s paintings, also serve as a thermal barrier. Wall colors, chosen to augment earth tones in the paintings, required the team to find soils from quarries all over the state. Crews also incorporated soil excavated on site during construction of the footings. 

“The rammed-earth walls are like ruins coming out of the ground, which anchor and frame the [entryway],” says Joshua Aidlin, principal at Aidlin Darling Design, the project architect. “It was critical to Oliveira that the space feels organic, not like a stark white museum.” 

Radiant flooring heats and cools the building without air movement, considered a distraction. Skylights with mechanical louvers automatically move with the sun to maintain indirect lighting throughout the day—both to sustain the ambience and to protect the paintings. The lighting system controls window shades to maximize daylight and reduce electricity use by minimizing artificial lighting needs.

Interior surfaces selected to emphasize natural textures include hand-scraped European white oak floors, hemlock custom-stained wood slat ceilings and river rocks.

In addition to the earthen walls, the exterior has red cedar siding. Carpenters with SC Builders blind-nailed the tongue-and-groove siding to ensure the reveals between each slat remained exactly 1/8 in. apart, according to the contractor. Landscaped grounds include a reflecting pool, granite labyrinth and ginkgo trees.

Stanford Windhover Contemplative Center


Key Players
Stanford University
Lead Design Firm Aidlin Darling Design
Contractor SC Builders
Structural Engineer Rutherford & Chekene Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineer BKF Engineers
MEP Engineer Air Systems; Elcor Electric
Landscape Architect  Andrea Cochran