By Victor Xu
The construction of the Windhover Contemplative Center, a spiritual refuge that aims to allow visitors to escape from the daily intensity of campus life, will be finished early this summer, according to University administrators.
Although the official dedication of the building will take place on Oct. 8, the facility will be made available for use during summer quarter. The center, which is situated on Santa Teresa Street and named after the “Windhover” series of paintings by the late Stanford professor and artist Nathan Oliveira, will be open to SUID holders between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
According to Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, the concept of having a location specifically dedicated to self-reflection and de-stressing was formulated in response to increasing student stress. As such, the building features Oliveira’s original paintings, comfortable seating, an outdoor reflecting pool, a granite labyrinth for meditative strolling and a Japanese-style garden with a fountain and tree.
Boardman also emphasized that the center is intended to be calming and technology-free. The structure’s ‘rammed earth’ walls and thick glass windows will block cellular and Internet signals, and students are expected to remove their shoes before entering the building. Outside of the center’s regular hours, there are plans for docent tours that will draw attention to the Oliveira paintings and the building’s unique architecture.
“We hope [the center] will be a refuge from Stanford, daily stressings and life in general,” Boardman said.
According to Joshua Aidlin, one of the center’s chief designers, almost every aspect of the Windhover center was purposefully built toward the building’s goal and is “episodically designed.” There are hidden courtyards and spaces that are not immediately visible, forcing visitors to independently discover each feature of the 4,000 square-foot center. The entryway is also intentionally drawn-out, requiring navigation through tree and bamboo groves to reach the entrance.
“The intent, again, is to shed the stresses of the day potentially even prior to entering the building,” Aidlin said.
The location — a busy intersection in close proximity to many dormitories and academic buildings — was also chosen in order to make visits to the center convenient and frequent.
According to Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life, the Windhover Center satisfies a niche on campus that has until now been unfulfilled. While reflection and meditation have been possible at facilities like Memorial Church, the Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning, and Experiences (CIRCLE) and the Cantor Arts Center, there has never been an area specifically designated for relieving pressure and stress from students’ daily lives.
“What I felt we were not really serving well was the students who say ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ or say ‘[I’m] not spiritual at all, but I do understand the importance of wellness for de-stressing and so on,” McLennan, who has been involved with the Windhover project since 2002, said.
McLennan, who has worked on the Windhover project for 12 years of his 14-year tenure as dean of religious life, expressed relief at seeing the opening of the contemplative space during his final few months at Stanford.
“As of August 31, I’m done, so I see this as sort of a culminating activity for me,” he said.
Although the Windhover building will soon be the newest addition to campus, the idea for the project has been floating around for almost two decades. According to Suzanne Duca, the primary donor for the project, she became enamored with the idea of the center after attending one of Oliveira’s showings of the “Windhover” series in 1995. Oliveira expressed his hope that the paintings might remain together and someday form the focus of a meditative space. The Board of Trustees approved the project in 2012, and construction began in June 2013.
“Two years ago, Nate and I met for the last time at the brand new site designated for Windhover, just ten days before he passed away,” she said. “He thought it was perfect.”
Jana Persky contributed to this report.
Contact Victor Xu at vxu ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.