Mecca for Architects

Recently, I have had a lot of opportunity to travel to a variety

of locations around the country. Some of these locations give you very little in the way of scenery, other give you almost overwhelming amounts. My trips to southern California usually fall into the latter.

Last month I was invited to attend a conference hosted by Health Dimensions Group in San Diego. Since I had not been there since I was a kid traveling with my family, I was quite eager to go. The idea of exchanging the late winter weather in New Jersey for a few days of SoCal had nothing to do with it...

While planning the trip I realized that I would get the chance to experience one of those places that most architects want to experience, kind of a ‘Mecca for Architects’ - the Salk Institute by Louis Kahn. Kahn was a Philadelphia architect who taught almost all of my professors, so his indirect influence on me (and many other architects of my generation) has been great over the years. I have had the pleasure to experience a lot of his work, but the Salk is arguably his seminal work. It was the culmination of an exploration of many ideas and concepts, from using daylight and natural ventilation to designing an efficient workplace. For me, it is his highest and best work.
Jonas Salk, in case you did not know (or forgot) developed the first successful vaccine for polio in the early 1950’s. Following that monumental success, Salk decided to found a research institute to further his work. The then current mayor of San Diego, himself a survivor of polio, convinced Salk to locate the institute on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean and just outside of the town of La Jolla.
Salk and Kahn joined forces in the 1959 to conceive of a plan for a setting and a facility that would attract the best researchers of the time. The design promoted open communication and collaboration between disciplines and teams. It also split the facility according to the need varying levels of privacy by placing the lab spaces into the core of the buildings and pulling the private studies into the courtyard and giving all of them direct views of the landscape and seascape beyond. This is what Kahn called ‘served and servant’ spaces.
The entire morning the weather was a bit overcast, but unbelievably, when we got to the Salk, the clouds broke and the sun started shining rather brightly. Thankfully I was able to get some photos that really accentuate the design.

A newly planted Valencia orange grove that replaced a lime tree grove, lines the entry sequence.


There also smaller areas for spur of the moment discussion and leisure as well.
The dark wall area to the right (above) and left (below) are large pieces of slate for impromptu art and algorithims.

And then there are those points of view/experiences that are so hard to capture with a camera...
All in all, the trip was a great success. I got to spend some quality time with my lovely wife (who chided me for being an archi-nerd), met a lot of interesting people and got to see a great piece of architecture and did not even have to sit in any of that SoCal traffic!

I hope you enjoy ~ Rich