Salk Institute
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Architect Louis I. Kahn
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Location La Jolla, California   map
Date 1959 to 1966   timeline
Building Type research laboratories and offices
 Construction System reinforced concrete
Climate mild
Context seaside
Style Modern
Notes stark but elegantly detailed, abstracted modern shapes combined with a formal symmetry


Exterior photo of gated entry at land-side end of courtyard

Exterior photo showing building facades facing onto courtyard space

Exterior overview from land side


Plan Drawing

Section Drawing

Section Drawing

Site Plan Drawing

Elevation Drawing

Elevation Drawing

Discussion Salk Institute Commentary

"In the laboratories the vertical ducts of the Richards Building have been turned on their sides, housed in the hollows of spanning box girders and vented from huge hoods at the flanks of the building. The pre-cast units of structure have thus continued to become larger as the crane can lift them. Order, once an affair of repetitive crystals for Kahn, is now felt in grand components, space-making themselves....[A]ll utilities are now directly channeled through the structure,...(the result being that) 'served' spaces, and 'servant' spaces are entirely integrated,...this 'meaningful order' was almost instantly arrived at in Kahn's design."

—Vincent Scully, Jr.. Louis I. Kahn. p36-37.

"Materials used are concrete, wood, marble and water. Concrete is left with exposed joints and formwork markings. Teak and glass infill in the office and common room walls....The laboratories may be characterized as the architecture of air cleanliness and area adjustability. The architecture of the oak table and the rug is that of the studies."

—Louis I. Kahn. from Heinz Ronner, with Sharad Jhaveri and Alessandro Vasella Louis I. Kahn: Complete Works 1935-74. p164.165.

"Louis Kahn's Salk Institute for Biological Studies on the Pacific coast near La Jolla aspires within its own spirit to an order achieved through clarity, definition, and consistency of application. It stands as a testament to Kahn's word, 'Order is. ' Two parallel laboratories, each an uninterrupted 65- foot wide and 245-feet long and encircled by a perimeter corridor, flank a central court. The support elements to these totally flexible spaces are placed in a peripheral relationship to this corridor. They are the studies and offices for scientist, fractured in profile and vertical in rhythm, which line this central court, connected by bridges to the perimeter corridor and receiving views of the ocean by virtue of exterior walls angles toward it. The idea of simple and strong; the served space of laboratories where research is performed, the serving space of offices where thought initiates....Clearly, in the institute at La Jolla, a new level of realization and accomplishment is evident for this ides....The institute manifests beauty of mind and act; of the resolution and articulation of the major elements of the building...being what it wants to and needs to be, to the precise detail and execution of beautiful concrete surfaces. Even the component of structure derives from the need to enclose specific spaces, specifically and pertinently, rather than offer a general envelope within which specific space might then be designated. The central court, as a typical Kahn-like space of shimmering blue water, a band pointing toward the ocean epitomizing what human endeavor can accomplish at one scale with geometric clarity and authoritative but modest deliberation, to give to the scaleless sweep of the ocean, here the Pacific, a poignant gesture."

—from Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. p195.

The Creator's Words

"I did not follow the dictates of the scientists, who said that they are so dedicated to what they are doing that when lunchtime comes all they do is clear away the test tubes from the benches and eat their lunch on these benches. I asked them: was it not a strain with all these noises? And they answered: the noises of the refrigerators are terrible; the noises of centrifuges are terrible; the trickling of the water is terrible. Everything was terrible including the noises of the air-conditioning system. So I would not listen to them as to what should be done. And I realizes that there should be a clean air and stainless steel area, and a rug and oak table areal From this realization form became. I separated the studies from the laboratory and placed them over gardens. The garden became outdoor spaces where one can talk. Now one need not spend all the time in the laboratories. When one knows what to do, there is only little time one needs for doing it. It is only when one does not Know what to do that it takes so much time. And to know what to do is the secret of it all."

—Louis I. Kahn. from Heinz Ronner, with Sharad Jhaveri and Alessandro Vasella Louis I. Kahn: Complete Works 1935-74. p158.


American Institute of Architects 25 Year Award, 1992

Sources on Salk Institute

Roger H. Clark and Michael Pause. Precedents in Architecture. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985. drawings and diagrams, p50-51. — Updated edition available at

Donald Corner and Jenny Young, University of Oregon. Slide from photographers' collection. PCD.2350.1012.1143.13, exterior photo of gated entry at land-side end of courtyard. PCD.2350.1012.1143.10, exterior photo showing building facades facing onto courtyard space. PCD.2350.1012.1143.08, exterior overview from land side. PCD.2350.1012.1143.14, exterior close-up photo of water channel in courtyard, with sea view beyond.

Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993. ISBN 0-442-01328-0. LC 92-18415. NA2750.H48 1993. discussion p193-194.

G. E. Kidder Smith. Looking at Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-8109-3556-2. LC 90-30728. NA200.S57 1990. exterior photos, p162, 163.

Heinz Ronner with Sharad Jhaveri and Alessandro Vasella. Louis I. Kahn : Complete Works 1935-74. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977. ISBN 0-89158-648-2. xNA737.K32R66. p158, 159. — The definitive complete works of Louis Kahn, in one large Kahn-style volume. Birkhauser 1996 Edition, Available at

William S. Saunders. Modern Architecture—Photographs by Ezra Stoller. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-8109-3816-2. exterior photo, p134, 135. — A wonderful & inspiring book of beautiful photographs by the master of architectural photography. Available at

Vincent Scully, Jr.. Louis I. Kahn. Second Printing, New York: George Braziller, 1962. NA 737 .K32 S38. LC 62-16265. p36-37.

James Steele. Salk Institute : Louis I Kahn (Architecture in Detail) Phaidon Press Inc., September 1993. ISBN 0714829145. — Only 60 pages, but chock-full of pictures and drawings Available at

Marcus Whiffen and Frederick Koeper. American Architecture, Volume 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984. exterior photo, central courtyard, f341, p429. — An excellent survey of American architecture. Reprint Edition available at

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Salk Institute


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