Saturday 28th October marked the birthday of Jonas Salk. Born in 1914, Salk is credited with developing the polio vaccine in the 50’s and subsequently eradicating a prevalent disease from the world. In 1960, as a gesture of his immense contribution to the world, the City of San Diego gifted 27 acres of land to Salk to develop as a “collaborative environment where researchers could explore the basic principles of life and contemplate the wider implications of their discoveries for the future of humanity.” And so the Salk Institute was realised.
Based in the La Jolla community of California, the Salk Institute was designed by world-renowned architect Louis Khan who Salk approach with the directive that he “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.” The brief for the project went on to outline Salk’s desire for a research institute that was “open and easily adaptable to amendments informed by future scientific and technological advances.” It was to be a place of aesthetic integrity. Simple, durable, and a place of inspiration for the scientists that worked within its walls. The design was to be so beautiful it would attract the attention of the worlds leading scientific minds. Today, the Salk Institute lays claim to so much more.
Towers housing the Institute’s research laboratories mirror each other across the expanse of a large paved expanse. Image courtesy of the Salk Institute.
Kahn’s original design was divided into three zones that were informed by the layout of a monastery – the Meeting House, the Village, and the laboratories. Facing the ocean to the west and divided by water gardens, the intended layout for the Institute was pioneering in terms of multi-purpose construction but sadly only the laboratories were ultimately realised.
The resulting buildings are composed of a pair of concrete geometric blocks that mirror each other from across a vast paved courtyard. A further area is defined by a cluster of towers with west facing windows that look out onto the ocean. These towers are connected to the research facilities via bridges that traverse the sunken courtyards and allow for the infiltration of sunlight and the natural elements.
The towers that house the Salk Institutes research labs mirror each other across the expanse of a central courtyard. Image by Minh T.
Bridges traverse courtyards to connect the Institute’s research towers. Image by Minh T.
The construction and design techniques evident at the Salk Institute are a testimony to the insightful and brilliantly pragmatic mind of Jonas Salk who left a very deep impression upon this earth.
Words by Tiffany Jade.