Jonas Salk Institute for Biological
10010 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA
Louis Kahn 1965
The extraordinary complex of the Salk Institute
is more beautifully and humbly sited and executed than can be conveyed in photographs.
Photographs usually express the openness and serenity of the plaza, but not its
humanly-scaled gesture to the site and Pacific Ocean beyond. The Institute is a
geometrized clearing in the landscape, and continually references and expresses the
landscape - not itself or its designer.
This opening into the Pacific Ocean is explained
as a uniquely American architectural gesture by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, in
"A Protest Concerning the Extension of the Salk Center," in Robert
Venturis Iconography and Electronics Upon a Generic Architecture: A View from the
Drafting Room (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996):
Our great American cities do not conform to the
European urban ideal, where a whole is defined within confining borders and axial
terminations, but acknowledge rather an order that is incomplete--fragmented--as it
accommodates inherent expansion and progress toward eternal frontiers.
Louis Kahn designed the Salk Center in La
Jolla...as an eloquent composition that is spatially and symbolically incomplete, with its
two richly rhythmical buildings...[which] define a powerful axis that is open at each end
and that constitutes thereby a significant gesture within an American landscape. The
composition of this common space...is perceptually, physically, poignantly American as it
frames the sea and the land where the old western frontier ends and the new eastern
Because the openness of the plaza is so
important to the design, it is interesting to note that Kahn had a collaborator. In
Kenneth Framptons book, Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in
Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1995), he writes:
It is surely not without some transcultural
significance that the Mexican architect Luis Barragan would play a decisive role in
determining the final form of the space, deeming it to be a civic plaza rather than a
garden court and thus suggesting that it should be left without any planting whatsoever...
[Barragan said,] "I would not put a tree or
blade of grass in this space. This should be a plaza of stone, not a garden." I
[Kahn] looked at Dr. Salk and he at me and we both felt this was deeply right. Feeling our
approval, he added joyously, "If you make this a plaza, you will gain a facade--a
facade to the sky."
The Institute received the American Institute of
Architects Twenty-Five Year Award in 1992.
Click each picture to enlarge it.
Christy Rogers, 1998
How to visit
Detailed visitor information, including tours, opening times and driving directions, are given clearly, with a map and further
architectural background, on the Institute's web site.
Books and other web
Click the book titles to view and to order