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MORE ABOUT: Salk Institute – La Jolla, California

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Salk Institute
10010 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, California

Completed: 1967
Architect: Louis Kahn
Structural Engineer: August Komendant
Landscape Architect Consultant: Luis Barragan
Lab Consultant: Earl Walls
Mechanical Engineer: Fred Dubin
Client: Jonas Salk
Benefactor: March of Dimes

The Salk Institute is a research facility for biological studies located outside of Sad Diego, California. It is widely considered as Louis Kahn’s first masterpiece. Jonas Salk was made famous and propelled to the cutting edge of biological studies by his discovery of a vaccine for polio in 1955.

Structural Engineer August Komendant developed a Vierendeel truss that provides twice the ductility of a comparable steel structure. Due to tough seismic regulations in the San Diego area, Komendant had to convince city officials that the truss would provide enough flexibility.

Reinforced Concrete was the primary material used for the structure of the building. Kahn wanted a reddish hue that was developed by studying the components of Roman pozzolana. Kahn accentuated the concrete by leaving the walls unfinished, using a V-shaped groove between panels and capping the conical holes left by framing and tension cables.

The institute features a fountain that acts as an axis of symmetry. It runs perpendicular to the sea and deposits into a lowered basin.

Early sketch of courtyard by Kahn.

Translation from link: “This court is perhaps the main project, in terms of aesthetics, materiality, composition, relationship with environment and technology. At one point Louis Kahn thought about putting trees, but Luis Barragán (who used to exchange letters) advise ‘I would not even a tree or a grass strip. This should be a place of stone, not a garden. If you do this square, you win a facade – a facade to the sky.’ And he sent this sketch. A place that is lost in the horizon between sky and sea.”

The mechanical systems were specifically designed for a research facility. The laboratories require constant ventilation, heating and air conditioning to avoid contaminating research. The facility generates a lot of its own power but is also connected to two local utility circuits. A reverse osmosis system provides distilled water to taps in the laboratories.

The interstitial spaces created by the Vierendeel truss system house and hide the mechanical systems of the building. These spaces allow the laboratories to be free of walls and columns and provides flexibility in the set up of the work spaces.

Kahn wanted the study rooms to be isolated from the laboratory space so that the scientists could be left with their thoughts. The studies are arranged so that each room has a view of the ocean and are aligned on the service levels.

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Written by Mike Carrell

September 13, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized