Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Visit to the Salk Institute

During my recent trip to San Diego, I took a little time on my last afternoon to go to the world-famous Salk Institute.


In the main courtyard

As a graduate student, I wrote a couple articles on laboratory design and the history of science, including one on the Richards Medical Research Building, a Penn biomedical laboratory designed by Louis Kahn (a Penn alum and Philadelphia native son). Kahn later designed the Salk; and years later, Bruno Latour went there to do the fieldwork that would become the foundation for Laboratory Life. So it was pretty much irresistable.

Here are more pictures, though it’s the kind of place that no photographs– especially mind– can do justice to. You really have to go see it yourself.


The Salk courtyard, looking toward the Pacific. The reflecting pool looks like it empties out into the ocean


It actually empties out into a small pool.


The coutyard, looking in the opposite direction.

The complex is broken up into several major spaces. The entire Institute consists of two buildings flanking the courtyard, and each building has a long bay of laboratories, a set of smaller courtyards, and a row of short towers with offices.


Ground floor. The laboratories are the glass-enclosed spaces on the left. Each lab looks out on a small couryard, some of which have barbecues, collections of plants, or flocks of bicycles.


Faculty offices are separate from the labs, and look out to the ocean.


Another view of the offices.

A lot of the brilliance of the Salk comes from Kahn’s decision to break up the space, and to separate the labs and offices. He further breaks down what could be oppressively large structures, making them lighter and more visually interesting.


A stairwell and walkway. The labs are to the left, offices to the right.

For example, look at the stairwell and walkway structures. This could have been a homogeneous, enclosed space– the Richards Medical Research Building’s stairwells are fully enclosed– but Kahn breaks up the stairs, letting light and air in. Notice the slivers of sky visible through the gaps in the stairs and walkways. While crossing the walkway, you get a view of the small courtyard below.


Notice how Kahn empahsizes the separation of laboratories and walkway/stairwell by introducing this gap.


And underground corridor running underneath the courtyard, connecting the two buildings.


It’s used as a supply point.


There’s some kind of self-checkout system here, but I didn’t figure out how it works.


Of course, scientists need supplies, too.


The rest of the science food groups: caffiene, starch, sugar, and more caffiene.

1 Comment

  1. FYI: The World Monuments Fund just put the Salk on its 100 Most Endangered List. A new MasterPlan being considered by San Diego City officials would allow a 240,000 sq foot expansion, most on the coastal mesas, and a subdivision into 4 parcels of the property, former city parkland given to the Salk by the public. This is a modernist masterpiece, and its under real threat.

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