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April 23, 2013

Architecture Field Trip – Salk Institute for Biomedical Research

Salk Institute for Biomedical Research – 1966
La Jolla, California
Louis I. Kahn

Salk Institute plaza

A ribbon of water flowing toward the horizon bisects the plaza.

“I separated the studies from the laboratory and placed them over gardens. The garden became outdoor spaces where one can talk. Now one need not spend all the time in the laboratories. When one knows what to do, there is only little time one needs for doing it. It is only when one does not Know what to do that it takes so much time. And to know what to do is the secret of it all.” – Louis I. Kahn

I grew up down the street from Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and I wiled away many hours walking the portico and studying for exams with my feet dangling in the fountains. So few of Kahn’s designs were built that to visit them feels like a pilgrimage and experiencing them, to me, borders on religious. My tour of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California certainly reinforces this.

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The strip of water cascades into a fountain with adjacent built-in seating to encourage casual conversation and appreciation of the view.

In terms of space-making, the Institute is both monumental and intimate. The monolithic towers thrust from the courtyard toward the sky, and the continuous plane of the courtyard reaches toward the expanse of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

But the materials are scaled for individual appreciation. The poured-in-place “pozzuolanic” concrete glows pink in the California sunshine, and its unfinished surface includes exposed joints that cast intricate shadows on the walls.

Poured in place concrete glows in the California sunshine.

Poured in place concrete glows in the California sunshine.

Fissures in the travertine tiles add texture and variety to the scheme. Teak trim surrounding the windows injects warmth and muted color into the restrained palette. These simple and durable materials have taken on a softly weathered patina through exposure to the elements of the exposed coastal site.

Weathered concrete juxtaposes against the warm teak trim and richly textured travertine tiles.

Weathered concrete juxtaposes against the warm teak trim and richly textured travertine tiles.

The result is an ideal backdrop to pursuing groundbreaking research—an environment that is at once inspiring and yet monastic. I find myself really jealous of all those lucky scientists.

I'm sure the scientists often feel like animals in captivity!

I’m sure the scientists often feel like animals in captivity!



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