The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is a scientific research institute in San Diego, USA, established in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk as a means for improving health. Designed by architect Louis Kahn it is now considered one of the world’s best buildings.
The Institute is set in a dramatic location, resting 350 ft above the Pacific Ocean on coastal bluffs in La Jolla, San Diego. Evolving out of the International Style, Khan’s approach was to create a building that would be both monumental and spiritually inspiring. He tackled the project as though it were an ‘intellectual retreat’, and drew inspiration from the design of monasteries.
Khan’s design has a symmetrical plan, with two buildings mirroring each other as they flank an open travertine-paved courtyard with a central stream of flowing water. The buildings have 6-storeys, although due to local zoning codes, the first two storeys are underground. Protruding towers of study space jut into the courtyard, connected to the main buildings by bridges.
Salk instructed Kahn to create a welcoming and inspiring environment for scientific research, with laboratory spaces capable of adapting to changing needs. Kahn designed open-plan laboratories that they would be flooded with natural light, taking advantage of the coastal location. A series of lightwells on both sides of each building that measure 40 ft long and 25 ft wide bring natural light to the underground levels.
Kahn used materials that would be strong and durable while requiring only minimal maintenance; concrete, teak, lead, glass and steel. He examined the type of concrete used by the ancient Romans to achieve high durability and waterproofing. This involved the use of ‘pozzolanic’ concrete made with volcanic ash that achieves a warm, pinkish glow.
Other than the deterioration of the teak elements, the building’s exterior looks very much the same today as when construction was completed in 1965.
In 1991, the Institute was designated as a historical landmark, and has been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Four ways in which smart cities could make our lives better.
Mayor Sadiq Khan announces new Greener City Fund in drive to make London the first 'National Park City'.
BSRIA announce UKAS accreditation for sound absorption testing.
The full terms of reference are published for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Read our introductory article into the role and practice of the architect.
Despite dividing opinion since its 1955 completion, Stalin's gift to Poland, the PKiN, is still Warsaw's most recognisible landmark.
Graduate Engineer Brittany Harris asks, what makes a great place to work?
Mayor Sadiq Khan publishes new guidance aimed at fast-tracking affordable housing projects through planning.
An estimated 90% of our time is spent inside, so could urban allotments be the answer to increasing health and wellbeing?
Why disputes occur and how they can be avoided.
Understand each building and its needs before exploring technical solutions and hiring consultants.
‘Device to Root Out Evil’ - an upside-down, New England-style church built with its steeple in the ground.