Louis I. Kahn Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California (Elevation of Laboratory and Meeting House) 1962

  • Not on view

A place he could invite Picasso—this is how the scientist Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, described his dream for a new laboratory complex when he first met Louis Kahn to discuss the program. Salk wanted a place where scientists, humanists, and artists could work together toward a greater understanding of life's processes.

This panoramic elevation, rendered in Kahn's favorite medium of charcoal on yellow tracing paper, portrays the final version of the Institute on its dramatic site: an expansive, irregular landscape on coastal bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. On the right or eastern edge, amid a grove of trees, low-lying laboratories hug the land. On the western edge of the site the so-called Meeting House perches on the bluff. Inspired in part by his admiration of medieval monasteries and cloisters, Kahn envisioned this complex as a kind of forum for social and intellectual interaction.

Kahn's monochromatic rendering is well suited to convey the qualities of his favored construction material of poured-in-place concrete. One can discern some of the buildings" details: the scientists" individual studies, the stair towers punctuating the long laboratories, the idiosyncratic screen walls with their lunettes. But more significant is the drawing's sense of monumentality and awe. The Salk Institute is an inspired realm, and one of Kahn's finest works. Here this deeply philosophical architect not only created a place reflecting the interdependence of the scientific and the humanistic disciplines but seems to have satisfied his lifelong ambition to give shape to the unmeasurable.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Peter Reed, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 126.
Charcoal on tracing paper
23 3/4 x 109 1/2" (60.3 x 278.1 cm)
Gift of the architect
Object number
© 2021 Estate of Louis I. Kahn
Architecture and Design

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