March 25, 2010

Photo Essay: San Diego's Modern Science

After reading about how Dwell-tastic it is, I booked an appointment to take a free architectural tour of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, down the road from the gliderport where I went paragliding last July. I couldn't be in San Diego for meetings without fitting in at least one or two sightseeing excursions.

The scientists at the Salk, which was established in the 1960s by the developer of the polio vaccine, study everything from plant biology to neuroscience to genetics to diseases. The institute was built on the Torrey Pines mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, just north of San Diego, as a place where scientists, research teams, and students could work together in a collaborative environment that adapted over time to their changing needs, required little maintenance, would withstand an earthquake, and would be worthy of a visit from Picasso (who, unfortunately, never did visit).

Most of the campus is built around this central courtyard, one of its most famous design features, and one of the last to be completed.

Water feature

Much of the structure is built out of concrete, in separate segments to provide enough give during seismic activity.

The concrete showcases some intentional design features of its own, including the lack of removal of air bubbles, and these lead plugs.

Weathered teak

Although it is still technically outdoors (outside the library), this teak sliding door has retained its color.

One of the three functional laboratory floors.

A rare view into one of the three alternating utility floors that power the labs, not open to the public

The Salk Institute campus - namely, the main building that surrounds the courtyard - is considered by some to be the most significant architectural site in San Diego. Designed by world-renowned architect Louis Kahn, it is flooded in daylight, even in the basement, and today looks very much like it did when it was first built.

I hope one day to return to witness the sunset, which twice a year is perfectly centered when looking out over the ocean from the courtyard.

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