In a time when architecture is hurtling toward robotics, 3-D printing, digital publishing, and cold, high-tech design, San Francisco–based Aidlin Darling Design (ironically based in the center of the tech universe) is proud to be located on the other side of the spectrum. Think of them as the slow food movement for architecture. Since founding their firm in 1998, partners Joshua Aidlin and David Darling have shifted their investigations more and more toward material, site, tactility, physicality, and sense.
“Before we started there was a proliferation of digital technology. We were excited by it, but we were seeing design that lacked a soul,” said Darling. He added: “We wanted to make architecture that is felt. We always talk about the human body being an armature for all the senses, and how the body moves through architecture.”
The approach has not only satisfied its founders, but it’s proven financially successful. The firm now has a healthy waiting list for residential projects, and it has branched into several new fields, from wineries to schools. Despite their success, Aidlin and Darling have resisted the urge to grow the firm to more than its current 17 designers, preferring to keep their hands in all aspects of their work.
“There’s an intimacy with the projects and clients that I don’t think you can maintain at a larger size,” noted Aidlin.
Roseland University Prep
Santa Rosa, CA
Ranked seventh in the state despite its students’ low economic status—Roseland University Prep is currently located in a shed with no windows and no heat.
Working with a miniscule budget, the firm extends the area’s agricultural vernacular to create “garden rooms.” Large walls slide open to expose students to the natural environment. The wood-clad interior will include multi-function spaces centered around a “great room” at the building’s core. A large interior amphitheater and casual meeting areas reinforce the school’s family-like atmosphere.
Brecon Estate Winery
Paso Robles, CA
Riffing on tropical modernism, the firm transformed a nondescript, faux-historic, claustrophobic winery by recladding it with sliding wood walls and reorganizing it around a floating, indoor/outdoor tasting room. The new configuration reconnects the winery to the land and trees around it, while the material palette returns it to the local agricultural vernacular. After experiencing the tasting room, visitors are directed to the fermentation tanks below. Eventually the firm will create a new production facility for the winery.
In renovating Joseph Esherick’s first San Francisco house, the firm preserved the original facade, then went to work addressing its “ominous and dark” interior, which had been compromised by adjacent buildings. The home now features a multi-storied, light-filled interior garden atrium that infuses the interior with daylight and natural ventilation.
One side of the central space is covered in glass while the other is a wood slat wall whose form was inspired by overgrown ivy. The firm modeled the wall digitally, but the reclaimed wood was hand cut with a band saw.
Windhover Contemplative Center
Palo Alto, CA
The Windhover Contemplative Center gives Stanford students a retreat from over-stimulation. A sanctuary space, the building was inspired by the earthen-hued paintings of renowned Bay Area artist Nathan Oliveira.
The Center was designed with Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture and presents a progression of spatial moments, focused around an internal courtyard and a surrounding oak glade.
“It’s this idea of depth and texture. How do you create an organic environment that is not competing with it, but begins to dialogue with it,” said Aidlin of the trance-inducing, all-enveloping environment. Bamboo plants, glass planes, skylights, and reflecting pools alongside slatted wood, rammed earth walls, and Cor-ten steel surfaces heighten the contemplative experience.
House of Earth and Sky
This LEED-Platinum, Net Zero Energy home connects you intimately with the land, and then with the heavens. It uses earthen walls to provide thermal mass. Lightweight roof planes orient photovoltaics toward the sun.