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The Building of Salk Institute in La Jolla Case Study

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2021

The building of Salk Institute in La Jolla is unknown for many people who admire the beauty of buildings; however, it remains one of the masterpieces of the modern architect. It appeared as a result of the cooperation between Louis Kahn, an outstanding contemporary architect, and Jonas Salk, MD, a developer of a safe and effective polio vaccine (“About Salk Architecture”). The scientist wanted to create a new research center that would be a place for further advances in research and invited Kahn to design a would-be temple of science. This decision preconditioned the future of the whole project and contributed to the appearance of the unique view of the Salk Institute that is now recognized as an outstanding example of modern art.

Among architects of the 20th century, Louis Kahn is known as a creator with his unusual vision of the role of design in the life of people. He was sure that social changes could be fostered by architecture to inspire people and make them happier (“Louis Kahn”). For this reason, the majority of his structures possess numerous features that differentiate them from other works. He created buildings for factory workers during the world war and wanted them to have some positive emotions at those hard times (“Louis Kahn”).

His unusual vision and combination of approaches preconditioned his recognition and becoming one of the prominent architectures of the 20th century. He designed the Indian Institute of Management, the National Assembly in Bangladesh, Yale University Art Gallery in Connecticut, which reflected his unusual style and vision of architecture (“Louis Kahn”). In this regard, his cooperation with Jonas Salk to create a unique building of the Institution was also exceptional and contributed to the creation of an outstanding masterpiece.

The unusual design emerged because of the specific client’s demands that were supported by Kahn’s extraordinary vision of the facility. Salk wanted the Institution to be spacious, light, and attractive to inspire individuals and be able to adapt to the continuously changing needs of science (“About Salk Architecture”). Moreover, it had to be simple, strong, and solid to resist the pressure of time and provide shelter for many generations of researches.

The facility also had to be open and adaptable to new conditions demands that could emerge because of the appearance of new ideas and research paradigms. This unusual request was fulfilled by Kahn, who created to mirrored structures, high and slim, and a spacious plaza between them (“About Salk Architecture”). This approach helped to form an unusual and recognizable image of the Institution and consider all the needs of a client.

The laboratories of the Salk Institute are placed in an original way. There are two oblong structures that oppose each other and are separated by a plaza (“About Salk Architecture”). There is a series of towers with diagonal positioning and windows that look onto the ocean and beautiful landscapes surrounding the building (“About Salk Architecture”). They are an essential element of the composition as they linked with laboratories by dainty bridges that help people to move across the building and, at the same time, allow sunlight to enter the area and make it spacious, attractive, and airy (“About Salk Architecture”).

Looking at these facilities, a viewer acquires the idea of some inspirational area that is appropriate for meditative thinking, cogitating, and looking for answers or new solutions, and it was the main Kahn’s idea. Following his vision of architecture as a power that can foster social change and help people, he managed to design a true temple of science that looks similar to monasteries and innovative buildings. The employment of this design also helped to meet Salk’s requirements and provide him with a place for the realization of his scientific plans and ideas.

The use of wooden panels, flexible materials, and concrete helps to create a solid and, at the same time, an aerial building that looks attractive and inspirational. Moreover, it helped to save costs by avoiding unnecessary spending on expensive materials or useless structures (Miranda). Kahn wanted to restore the sense of monumentality that can rarely be seen in modern architecture and show that it could be attractive (Ching et al. 774).

For this reason, the symmetrical and geometrical forms are used to create this very feeling. Moreover, the structural system that also follows symmetrical patterns is introduced to emphasize the solidity of designs and associate them with ancient Greek or Roman temples (Ching et al. 774). This approach helps to transform the Salk Institution into one of the modern temples of science, which was one of the primary goals of Salk.

As it has been stated previously, the practical utility was another essential request of the client. For this reason, Kahn introduced multiple solutions to follow this goal and make the building easily upgradable. Windows of laboratories are installed by using screws, which means that they can be removed to use big-size equipment without destroying walls or other parts of the construction (Miranda).

Moreover, support beams of the Institution are restricted to the laboratories’ edges, and it is another innovative and usual solution of the architect. Using this approach, he managed to achieve increased flexibility and introduce multiple opportunities for restructuring the area and configuring the space needed for researchers (“About Salk Architecture”). All systems critical for introducing new elements are not covered by concrete, they are easily accessible and can be improved during the next renovations or reconsiderations. That is why the Salk Institute combines both unique beauty and practical utility appreciated by investigators and the client.

The environment also plays a vital role in the creation of image and impression. The waterway in the middle of the courtyard emphasizes the surrounding, its peaceful character, and helps to find the balance with nature. Kahn managed to correctly realize the peculiarities of the local environment and make them a part of the building. Moreover, the weather and climate help to avoid the gradual deterioration of the quality of materials and the construction (Miranda). For this reason, nature becomes an essential aspect of the building.

Altogether, the Salk Institute remains a unique building and a masterpiece of modern architecture. The cooperation of Kahn and Salk helped to create the unique style of the construction, which is now considered a monument to unusual thinking and creativity. It also affected the stylistics as some of the solutions and approaches used by the creator were discussed and used by other designers in their projects. The combination of symmetrical forms, unusual shapes, materials, and elements of nature help to inspire people who work there and who see it. Monumental and beautiful, it can be associated both with ancient roman temples and with modern buildings, which reflects the creator’s idea.

Works Cited

Salk. Web.

Ching, Francis, et al. A Global History of Architecture. 2nd. ed., John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2010.

Famous Architects. Web.

Miranda, Carolina. “Los Angeles Times. 2016. Web.

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