Salk Institute architect Louis Kahn: an amazing exhibit!

Photo of exterior of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. The famous building was designed by renowned modernist architect Louis Kahn.
Photo of exterior of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. The famous building was designed by renowned modernist architect Louis Kahn.

One of the world’s most famous works of modern architecture is located in San Diego.  I’m referring to the Salk Institute building in La Jolla. Its designer was Louis Kahn, considered to have been one of the most important, innovative architects of the 20th century.

An exhibition now running at the San Diego Museum of Art takes a thorough look at the remarkable life, work and genius of Louis Kahn.

Last weekend I was given a personal tour of the amazing exhibit and found myself completely blown away by its scope. The photos, films, sketches, notes and architectural models, including a life-size portion of an extraordinary house–even works of art produced by Louis Kahn himself– were too much for my mind to absorb in one visit.

Kahn was undoubtedly a genius. His unique modern structures seem like ancient timeless monuments, made beautifully functional. They are simultaneously complex and simple. They are geometric, symmetric, modular, clean. They seem solid but light-filled. They contain unusual surprises of line, curve and angle. They are iconic.

Louis Kahn had a long, prolific career.  His work can be found throughout the world, and includes the enormous, citadel-like National Assembly Building of Bangladesh. Some of his more famous creations in the United States include the Kimball Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the library at Philips Exeter Academy, the Norman Fisher House in Philadelphia, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, and, of course, San Diego’s own remarkable Salk Institute.

There is so much to see in this impressive exhibit–there were so many amazing designs produced by Kahn during his productive lifetime–that I can’t begin to cover it all in this blog. So I must direct you to the San Diego Museum of Art’s website. To get a small hint of what you will discover at the museum, you might want to check out the Wikipedia article on Louis Kahn.

This weekend I headed up to La Jolla to see if I could snap some good photos of Louis Kahn’s very famous Salk Institute building. Walking around, I managed to photograph the exterior, but I was unable to access the interior courtyard. So I’ve included one photo from Wikimedia Commons, just to provide a quick idea. Peering through a fence, I did glimpse some scaffolding in the interior area, so I suppose that would have nullified my photographic attempts, anyway.

The Salk Institute building’s walls are made of smooth exposed concrete. While this material might appear stark, the monumental appearance, the intriguing shapes and architectural symmetry are absolutely impressive. There is a mathematical, complex interaction between shadow and light that is difficult to describe–and quite beautiful.

Want to see more of Kahn’s brilliant work? Head over to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park before this special exhibition closes on January 31, 2017.

Louis Kahn The Power of Architecture is a special exhibit showing at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park through January 31, 2017.
Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture is a special exhibit showing at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park through January 31, 2017.
Salk Institute in La Jolla from the interior courtyard. (A cropped public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.)
Salk Institute in La Jolla from the interior courtyard. (A cropped public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.)
Interior section of the Salk Institute just beyond the main entrance.
Interior section of the Salk Institute just beyond the main entrance.
Kahn's design seems both simple and futuristic. The interior space utilized by medical research scientists is said to be uniquely inspiring and functional.
Kahn’s design seems both simple and futuristic. The interior space utilized by medical research scientists is said to be intellectually inspiring and uniquely functional.
Another photo of the Salk Institute building's fascinating exterior.
Another photo of the Salk Institute building’s fascinating exterior.
A monumental building made of smooth exposed concrete with simple, clean lines, between green grass and blue San Diego sky.
A monumental building made of smooth exposed concrete with simple, clean lines, between green grass and blue San Diego sky.
A small but interesting portion of the Salk Institute building.
A small but interesting portion of the Salk Institute building.
The surface of the Salk Institute building is stark but surprisingly beautiful. Time has made the concrete appear more earthen and natural. Almost like marble.
The surface of the Salk Institute building is stark but surprisingly beautiful. Time has made the concrete appear more earthen and natural. Almost like marble.
Laboratory visible through one window. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine. Salk Institute today is a world leader in medical research.
Laboratory visible through one window. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine. Salk Institute today is a world leader in medical research.
It's a sunny day in La Jolla as someone walks toward a brilliant creation of the human mind--a building designed by famed modernist architect Louis Kahn.
It’s a sunny day in La Jolla as someone walks toward a brilliant creation of the human mind: a building designed by famed modernist architect Louis Kahn.

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

2 thoughts on “Salk Institute architect Louis Kahn: an amazing exhibit!”

  1. Yes yes yes to the architecture of Louis Kahn! I hope you have seen the documentary “My Architect,” the work of his son Nathaniel? It seems to be on YouTube, isn’t everything, but if you haven’t seen it, go seek it out.

    Liked by 1 person

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