What is it: Salk Institute, La Jolla, California by Louis Kahn

Why its awesome: plenty of vacationers will put museums and parks on their must-see lists, but how often do you get the opportunity to take a tour of a research facility designed by a great architect? The Salk Institute presents a unique opportunity to see not only great architecture, but to see how biologists and other scientists actually work on a daily basis. While on the campus tour, you’ll see researchers on the other side of the windows busy at their stations; it feels almost like you’re touring a zoo for people. The research aims to understand diseases and discover cures in fields as diverse as molecular biology and genetics to neuroscience to plant biology.

It is amazing to not only observe the scientists interacting with their space, but to see how a building has stood the test of time and adapted to new technologies and practices.

Salk Institute Section via www.oxfordartonline.com courtesy UofPA Archives
Salk Institute Section via www.oxfordartonline.com courtesy UofPA Archives

Jonas Salk had instructed Louis Kahn “to provide spacious, unobstructed laboratory spaces that could be adapted to the ever-changing needs of science. The building materials had to be simple, strong, durable, and as maintenance-free as possible.” This is no easy task, considering no one knows what technologies and needs will arise in the future. The aesthetic of the campus was to be “a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.”

The Salk Institute definitely causes a visitor to pause, reflect, and admire the simple serene emptiness of the courtyard between labs. The beauty and quietness of the massive concrete forms stir a deep appreciation for space, form and light. These qualities certainly inspire the same types of reactions as one would have when viewing a piece by Picasso. In that regard, I think Kahn was successful in making the campus a worthy piece of architecture and art.

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