Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Added by Lindsey Schweinberg, last update: August 17, 2012, 12:33 pm

Salk Institute for Biological Studies
10010 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037
United States
32° 53' 14.0244" N, 117° 14' 48.4512" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Education (EDC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:
Dates: Commission / Completion:March 15th, 1960 – Salk announces project, Kahn presents first scheme. Late 1967 – Completion of Core Buildings
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect(s): Louis I. Kahn Landscape/Garden Designer(s): Lawrence Halprin Other Designer(s): Luis Barragan (consulting friend/modernist Mexican architect)  Consulting Engineer(s): August Komendant (Structural Engineer), Earl Walls (Lab Consultant), Fred Dubin (Mechanical Engineer)
Others associated with Building/Site: Original Owner(s)/Patron(s): Dr. Jonas Salk Name(s): Renato Dulbecco Association: The Nobel Foundation Event(s): Nobel Prize Period: 1975 Name(s): Roger Guillemin Association: The Nobel Foundation Event(s): Nobel Prize Period: 1977 Name(s): Sydney Brenner Association: The Nobel Foundation Event(s): Nobel Prize Period: 1975
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): Type of Change: Addition:Highly controversial addition of two new lab buildings to the East of the original two lab buildings. Cost: $21 Million Date(s):  1992 – 1996 (C) Circumstances/Reasons for Change: Led by founder Jonas Salk, the campus had always intended on expanding and was now doing so to accommodate for more labs, an auditorium, and a primary lobby space. Effects of Changes: Grove of Eucalyptus trees removed from East end of court.  Persons/Organizations Involved: Architect: Anshen + Allen, Los Angeles (Architects David Rinehart and John MacAllister. Rinehart was a former employee of Louis Kahn). Landscape Architects: Sherr & Wagner, Kawasaki Theilacher Ueno + Assoc. Engineer: Ove Arup & Partners Civil: Barrett Consulting Group Consultants: Earl Walls; Carmen Nordsten Igonda Design; Debra Nichols Design; Cermack Peterka Petersen General Contractor: McCarthy Brothers Company
Current Use: Of Whole Building/Site:Neuroscience Research, Molecular and Cellular Biology Research
Current Condition: Of Whole Building/Site: Good Of Principal Components: The institute is continuing to grow and maintain itself. Of Other Elements: The Eucalyptus grove (although Kahn intention debated) has been removed. Entry to the complex through the grove to the barren courtyard has been compromised by Ashen + Allen addition. Of Surrounding Area: Surrounding area has grown from a secluded research village to a larger district of institutions and facilities.
General Description:

Sited at the head of a ravine along coastal bluffs, the Institute's integrated building complex and natural setting provide a contemplative working environment for a community of scientists. The austere central plaza is flanked by the symmetrical, four-story, semi-detached rows of researcher studies in bays with diagonal walls oriented toward the sea. Behind, linked to the studies by bridges, are free plan laboratory spaces.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:

Name(s) of Surrounding Area/Building(s):   Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
Visual Relations: North Building (original): Molecular Cell Biology South Building (original): Neurosciences
Functional Relations: Lab building proximity relationship essential

Technical Evaluation:

Salk wanted flexible laboratory space – meaning free of columns and walls with the ability to adapt to changes over time. The Engineer Komendant suggested the use of a 9-foot tall Vierendeel truss to span the 65-foot wide labs. Those trusses became the “Interstitial Space” to house the mechanical systems and larger machinery. The alternate floors became free.


This project improved the science of science; researchers became more collaborative and development accelerated. This seemingly simple act changed the way research was conducted, from the historical double-loaded corridor of cellular labs – to a more integrated adaptable lab. The impact on human inter-relations transformed. It is also important to note Kahn’s deliberate design of space for the individual, small group, and large collective. He also designed the possibilities of serendipitous interaction through careful consideration of spatial relationships and their derivative circulation.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The formal characteristics of the complex, including pure geometrical forms has been attributed to both Kahn’s interest in ancient western ruins and Salk’s interest in Assisi, Italy.

Reverence for the building was escalated in the early 1990’s when the Ashen + Allen addition was proposed. The number of conversations that the new design sparked was enormous. The number of journal articles prior to that are very limited.
Although not the first lab building to use the free-plan, Salk's lab in Philadelphia inspired the idea in La Jolla.

General Assessment:
Text references:

Forms of attachment: additions to modern American monuments Michael Sorkin. Lotus international 1992, n.72, p.90-95. Summary: Four examples are used: Kimbell Art Museum (Louis I Kahn; Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp); Guggenheim Museum (F. L. Wright; Gwathmey Siegel); Whitney Museum (Michael Graves); Salk Institute (Louis Kahn; Anshen & Allen). Salk Institute Wins 25-Year Award Architecture 1992 Feb., v.81, no.2, p.23, ISSN 0746-0554 Salk Institute Controversy [letter] Kenneth Frampton Architectural Review 1992 Apr., v.190, no.1142, p.10, ISSN 0003-861X Salk Institute, Louis I Kahn Steele, James Architecture in Detail. Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1993. The Salk Talks Kathy Chia, Suzanne Stephens. Oculus 1993 Jan., v.55, n.5, p.11-13. Summary: Dr. Jones Salk spoke on his relationship with Louis Kahn at the Architecture League on November 4, 1992. There are plans to add to Salk's Institute in La Jolla, California. Includes a response by the architect for the addition. Criticism: a reading of Louis Kahn's Salk Institute Laboratories Jeffry Kieffer. A + U: architecture and urbanism 1993 Apr., n.271, p.3-17, ISSN 0389-9160. Abstract/Summary The Salk Institute for Biological Research in La Jolla, built 1959-1965. Save the Salk? Or are devotees missing the point about Kahn? Aaron Betsky. In: L.A. architect 1993 Apr., p.[8]-9. Salk addition: pro and con Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Brian Henderson. Architecture 1993 July, v.82, n.7, p.41,43,45, ISSN 0746-0554.
Abstract/Summary Presents opinions on the addition, by Anshen + Allen, to Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla. Con: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Pro: Brian Henderson, president of the Salk Institute. Add and subtract [Salk addition debate] Michael J. Crosbie. Progressive architecture 1993 Oct., v.74, n.10, p.48-51, ISSN 0033-0752. Abstract/Summary "...offers new reasons to question this disputed project." Addition by Anshen and Allen. Between beakers and beatitudes [Salk addition] Michael Benedikt. Progressive architecture 1993 Oct., v.74, n.10, p.52-53, ISSN 0033-0752. Abstract/Summary "...speculates on how an addition to Kahn's Salk Institute can bridge this landmark's dual role." Dissecting the Salk Michael J. Crosbie. Progressive architecture 1993 Oct., v.74, n.10, p.[40]-47, ISSN 0033-0752.
Abstract/Summary History of the designed by Louis Kahn and the controversial addition. Includes interview with Jonas Salk. Add and Subtract Crosbie, Michael J. Progressive Architecture, Oct. 1993, v. 74, n. 10, p.48-51. The Salk Sinks Katherine Kai-Sun Chia. Oculus 1993 Nov., v.56, n.3, p.12. Abstract/Summary Construction proceeds on the controversial addition to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. Concrete controversy at the Salk Raul A. Barreneche. Architecture 1996 Mar., v.85, n.3, p.125-129, ISSN 0746-0554. Abstract/Summary On the debate over patenting the process used by Anshen + Allen for the concrete construction of the New East Building at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. The Salk's addition Joseph Giovannini. Architecture 1996 Mar., v.85, n.3, p.[72]-[81], ISSN 0746-0554. Abstract/Summary East Building, Salk Institute for the Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California. Architects: Anshen + Allen. Original architect: Louis Kahn. Tod Williams & Billie Tsien [interview]. GA document 1997 Apr., n.50, p.[42]-45, ISSN 0389-0066. Abstract/Summary An account of their initial work designing the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif. and their impressions of Kahn's Salk Institute there. The Salk Institute Architecture & Engineering Ashen, Allen, et al The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. La Jolla, CA. 2000? (No other publication information) Avery Library Call No. AA685 K121 Sa343. Things in their best order: technical aspects of the Salk Institute and their role in its design Thomas Leslie. Journal of architecture 2003 Spring, v.8, n.1, p.95-113, ISSN 1360-2365.
Abstract/Summary Using correspondence from the Louis I. Kahn archives at the University of Pennsylvania, the author suggests an alternative understanding of Kahn's work as empirical, evolutionary and based on engineering. Masters of light: Louis Kahn: Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, USA, 1965 Henry Plummer. A + U: architecture and urbanism 2003 Nov., extra edition, p.176-183, ISSN 0389-9160.

Recorder/Date: Name of Reporter: Randall Holl Address: 549 Riverside Drive, Apt 3A; New York, NY 10027; USA Telephone: 1-612-991-5383 E-Mail: Date of Report:March 2, 2007
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
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