“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality”—Jonas Salk
Prize-winning biologist Jonas Salk was certain that the inspiration that led to his development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s came from the contemplative setting of Assisi, Italy. Salk’s progress had been slow in his basement laboratory in Pittsburg, so he decided to travel to Assisi, Italy, to clear his head. Amid his ambles within the cloistered courtyards and elegant columns of a 13th Century monastery, Salk was struck with fresh insights, including the one that led to his successful polio vaccine..
Convinced that architectural environments influenced the mind, Salk later teamed up with accomplished artist and architect Louis Kahn to build the spacious Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, in 1965. It remains one of the world’s boldest structures and is now designated a historical site. The research institute fulfills Salk’s vision of a facility where open, unobstructed laboratory interiors set in a dramatic location inspire creativity among its researchers. Indeed, this “jewel of biomedical research” has attracted and spawned the creativity of close to a dozen Nobel Prize winners and promoted the unbridled spirit of its scientists and students whose almost unrivaled scientific talent has regularly placed the Salk Institute in the world’s top three biomedical research organizations in publications and faculty accomplishments.
The institute overlooks the coastal bluffs of La Jolla, California, 350 feet above the Pacific Ocean on a 27-acre site donated by the City of San Diego. Salk entrusted Kahn with specific design requests to fulfill: first that the structure be adaptable to the ever-changing needs of science; that the facility weather the effects of time with minimal maintenance cost; and that the laboratory environments meet the researcher’s functional, humanistic and aesthetic needs. Salk challenged Kahn to: “Create a facility worthy of a visit by Pablo Picasso.”
Kahn’s creation is an elegant and powerful two mirror-image of rectangular buildings that flank a sweeping courtyard made entirely of imported travertine marble. Flowing through its centre is the “river of life”, which cascades down several step pools toward the sea. The buildings and courtyard consist of open elegance and simple lines, inspiring open-mindedness.
This image has been added to my Black & White gallery.