Salk Institute

Salk Institute

Louis Kahn
San Diego, United States
Année du projet
Histoires par
Archello Classics

The Getty Conservation Institute
Tom Kolnaar

Salk Institute - Louis Kahn

Archello Classics en tant que Médias.

The institute is housed in a complex designed by the firm of Louis Kahn. Jack MacAllister, FAIA, of the Kahn firm was the supervising architect and a major design influence on the structure that consists of two symmetric buildings with a stream of water flowing in the middle travertine-paved central plaza that separates the two. In the beginning the buildings were made up of different kinds of cement mixes. Kahn wanted to see what kind of mixture would best work as well as look the best. Each mixture had a different color. In the basement of the complex, there are different colored cement walls because Kahn was experimenting with the mixtures. Kahn also added wood to the complex. Kahn wanted the wood and the cement to complement each other. The buildings themselves have been designed to promote collaboration, and thus there are no walls separating laboratories on any floor. There is one floor in the basement, and two above it on both sides. The lighting fixtures have been designed to easily slide along rails on the roof, in tune with the collaborative and open philosophy of the Salk Institute's science. At first Kahn wanted to put a garden in the middle of the two buildings. As construction continued, Kahn did not know what shape it should take. Kahn saw an exhibit of Luis Barragan's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Kahn invited Baragan to collaborate on the court that separated the two buildings. Barragan told Kahn that he should not add one leaf, nor plant, not one flower, nor dirt. Instead, make it a plaza with a single water feature. The resulting space is considered the most impressive element of the entire design.

According to A. Perez, the concrete was made with volcanic ash relying on the basis of ancient Roman concrete making techniques, and as a result gives off a warm, pinkish glow. This "pozzolanic" concrete was then only vibrated as needed structurally, leaving a lightly textured wall face. The basement also houses the transgenic core. Each laboratory block has five study towers, with each tower containing four offices, except for those near the entrance to the court, which only contain two. A diagonal wall allows each of the thirty-six scientists using the studies to have a view of the Pacific, and every study is fitted with a combination of operable sliding and fixed glass panels in teak wood frames. Originally the design also included living quarters and a conference building, but they were never actually built.

The Salk Institute’s open environment teeming with empty space is symbolic of an open environment for creation, the symmetry stands for scientific precision, and submerging crevasses allow warm, natural light to enter the buildings like the intellectual light that leads to discovery. The contrast between balance and dynamic space manifests a pluralistic invitation for scientific study in structures developed to accommodate their respective functions as parts of a research facility. Although modern in appearance, it is essentially an isolated compound for individual and collaborative study, not unlike monasteries as sanctuaries for religious discovery, and they are thought to have directly influenced Kahn in his design. Ultimately, the Salk Institute’s meaning can be interpreted as transcending function and physical place as a reflection of Western civilization’s pursuit of truth through science. In 2014, the Getty Conservation Institute partnered with the Salk Institute to preserve the concrete and teak building which is, due to its coastal location, subject to the punishing rigors of a marine environment.



The Getty Conservation Institute en tant que Association.

After four years, conservation efforts are complete for one of the key architectural elements at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California—its teak window walls. The site, completed in 1965 and designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn, is widely considered to be a masterpiece of modern architecture. It is also home to globally renowned scientists making breakthroughs in research areas of cancer, neuroscience, metabolism, plant science, genetics, and more.

“The GCI’s partnership with the Salk Institute is an excellent example of what can be achieved when architects, scientists and conservators are given the resources and time needed to develop practical solutions, demonstrating how best-practice conservation methodologies can be applied to future projects at the Salk and other works of modern architecture,” says Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute. “We thank Salk for their ongoing commitment to good stewardship of this remarkable site, as well as their enthusiasm and cooperation throughout this project.”

Kahn was commissioned by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, to design the campus for his new scientific research institute on a coastal bluff in the La Jolla area of San Diego. Kahn worked closely with Salk on the design of the building, which houses offices, studies, laboratories, and other research facilities.

After 50 years in an exposed marine environment, the institute’s distinct teak window walls, set within the monolithic concrete walls of the study towers and offices, had weathered to a non-uniform appearance and were deteriorated. The construction work, designed by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE), addressed these issues, and Getty-led research and funding as part of the GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) helped to initiate the construction.

“You have the brightest people working in one of the most collaborative and inspiring environments, so maintaining a long-term conservation plan for the buildings is incredibly important,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute. “The GCI and partners have done a remarkable job. If Louis Kahn and Jonas Salk could see the building today, I think they would be overjoyed.”

The 203 teak window walls are significant elements of the overall site, expressing a human element and scale within the monumental structure. Although prefabricated, every window has a hand-crafted quality due to the detailing of the teak wood by carpenters and customization to fit many sized openings. Each offers a different combination of sliding windows, louvers and shutters, allowing staff to control light and air in their workspaces. The window walls are significant within Kahn’s larger body of work, as they expand upon his office’s language of custom exterior woodwork.

Research found that the window walls suffered from surface erosion, the growth of a fungal biofilm (likely spread by nearby eucalyptus trees) that gave the wood a black appearance that varied significantly by exposure, changes to teak color due to previously applied sealers and finishes, insect infestation and moisture infiltration due to the omission of flashings and weather stripping during the original construction project and the failure of sealants.

“Restoration of the teak wood presented a number of challenges,” says Kyle Normandin, WJE project manager and associate principal. “The success of the project is that we were able to save so much of the original material.”

In order to understand the causes of the problems, the GCI and its consultants engaged in historical research, explored the extent of damage to the window walls, and performed physical and laboratory analysis to identify materials used and various causes of damage and deterioration. Possible treatments for the wood and wood replacement option were also researched, as well as design modifications to improve the overall performance of the assemblies. Finally, the GCI and WJE developed a series of on-site trial mock-ups to evaluate different repair approaches and treatments to identify the most appropriate ways to move forward.

Drawing upon the results of the project team’s earlier research and the trial mock-ups, WJE developed comprehensive construction documents to implement the repair and conservation of the window walls, with interventions ranging from minor (cleaning and repair), to moderate (cleaning, repair, and some replacement of materials), to major (removal of the entire window assembly where severely deteriorated and replacement using like-for-like materials). WJE, with consultants Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects (I+J), also recently completed a comprehensive conservation management plan for long-term care of the institute’s buildings and site, funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern initiative.

“Through the careful planning of everyone involved, the restoration effort was able to reuse over two-thirds of the original Southeast Asian teak,” says Tim Ball, senior director of Facility Services at Salk. “The teak will last a minimum of 50-70 years more thanks to the conservation plan.”

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