Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Trip Report: Salk Institute For Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA

Living in San Diego, it's easy to bemoan the lack of meaningful contemporary art, design, culture, etc. Galleries are full of hideous rich-people-with-no-taste monstrosities, the MCASD is unconscionably tiny, bands touring the southwest seem only to make the side trip from LA 50% of the time, and forget about it if Coachella is near fore or aft.

As easy as hating San Diego can be, I decided I'd put a little more effort into finding something to like about the place (you know, besides the beautiful weather, the beaches, the desert, the mountains, the proximity to tons of other great places...). So here's the first in a new series wherein Janel and I make field trips to significant locations in and around our fair city.

I went with an obvious choice for our first trip: The Salk Institute, designed by Louis Kahn and built in 1965. Many articles already exist describing the history, context, importance, and details of the institute, so I won't bother trying.

I took lots of pictures though, with a real camera nonetheless[!]

A view of the western end, from a cliff, across a canyon, with the Pacific Ocean to my back. The center courtyard has a tent in the center for an event that was to be that evening. The effect of the symmetrical northern and southern wings flanking the central plaza, forming a "facade to the sky" would presumably be more striking with A) no tent B) no ugly new UCSD construction in the background C) a better camera lens D) all of the above.

A view from the road of the west end of the north wing. Nice lawn!

Details: note the travertine and beautiful intrinsically designed seating.

True story: we ran into an acquaintance who is employed by the Salk Institute; she said they are not allowed to drink red wine anywhere inside or out where there is travertine flooring. Here's a detail of the red wine-friendly gala flooring.

More gala-friendly additions. Maybe they went a little overboard...

Beautiful expanses of raw unfinished concrete; unadorned but for a beautiful patina.

Travertine, travertine, every where, nor any drop of wine

If you liked the travertine, you're going to love the teak!

A view of the northern wing from the plaza. Four stories are above ground with two more hidden below.

The northern wing again, with the ocean-facing windows in view.

I love the look of weatherd teak.

Check out that mildew!

Here's some ground level teak that looks like it's been refinished recently. It provides a beautiful accent to the concrete and travertine.

This wood was impeccable, perhaps due to its shelter from the elements.

There's a series of terraced pools at the western-most end. Also, there is a line of water running the length of the plaza, but the ugly tent covered it.

Another fatality of the gala: this pool should have water flowing into it. Alas, it was not to be.

Note these beautiful carved travertine seats that look anything but comfortable. Note the ugly additional seating in the background that looks comfortable if nothing else.

More travertine; on the way out.

A parting shot. Nice lawn!
The Salk Institute sits atop my favorite beach in San Diego (and, perhaps anywhere), Black's Beach. Surrounded by sandstone cliffs, Black's is accessible by several means, though most technically off-limits but unguarded. Additionally, Black's is tacitly a nude beach in spite of multiple signs saying nudity is not allowed. Any given weekend day you will find an entire nudist colony's worth of naturalists on the shore below. Any other day, you will find creepy older gentlemen wandering the beach alone au naturel.

The cliffs are technically off-limits, and, indeed, are unstable, killing tourists now and again who fall victim to rockfall while sitting too close to the base.

The bluff atop which the Institute sits is also home to a gliderport, facilitating the launching and landing of paragliders and hang gliders. There's even a rough landing strip for sailplanes.

Oh, and there's this place. That canyon running below this epically well-positioned house leads from the Salk Institute directly down to the beach via an adventurous, but well tended and oft-used path.
There are free daily architectural tours of the Insitute at 11:45 A.M. You can reserve a spot online.

For better history and architectural analysis of the Salk Institute and Louis Kahn, check out these links:

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