Completed in 1965 and designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla is widely considered to be a masterpiece of modern architecture and home to globally renowned scientists.
Kahn was commissioned by Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, to design the campus for his new scientific research institute. Kahn worked closely with Salk on the design of the building, which continues today housing offices, studies, laboratories, and other research facilities.
But after 50 years in an exposed marine environment, the institute’s highly distinct 203 teak window walls set in concrete had weathered and were deteriorated by moisture, insects and fungi.
After four years of careful conservation efforts, it was announced Wednesday that all of the site’s teak window walls have been completely restored, with most of the original wood intact.
The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) partnered with Salk on the project. The construction design firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE) was brought in on the work with funding from the Getty’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative.
“The GCI’s partnership with the Salk Institute is an excellent example of what can be achieved when architects, scientists and conservators are given the resources and time needed to develop practical solutions, demonstrating how best-practice conservation methodologies can be applied to future projects at the Salk and other works of modern architecture,” said Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute. “We thank Salk for their ongoing commitment to good stewardship of this remarkable site, as well as their enthusiasm and cooperation throughout this project.”
The conservation effort was no small task. The GCI and its consultants engaged in historical research, explored the extent of damage to the window walls, and performed physical and laboratory analysis to identify materials used and various causes of the deterioration. Possible treatments for the wood and wood replacement option were also researched, as well as design modifications to improve the overall performance. Finally, the GCI and WJE developed a series of on-site trial mock-ups to evaluate different repair approaches and treatments to identify the most appropriate ways to move forward.
“Restoration of the teak wood presented a number of challenges,” said Kyle Normandin, WJE project manager and associate principal. “The success of the project is that we were able to save so much of the original material.”
“Through the careful planning of everyone involved, the restoration effort was able to reuse over two-thirds of the original Southeast Asian teak,” said Tim Ball, senior director of facility services at Salk. “The teak will last a minimum of 50-70 years more thanks to the conservation plan.”
WJE, with consultants Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects, also completed a comprehensive conservation management plan for long-term care of the institute’s buildings and site, funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern initiative.
Elizabeth Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute, calls the site “one of the most collaborative and inspiring environments.
“Maintaining a long-term conservation plan for the buildings is incredibly important,” she continued. “The GCI and partners have done a remarkable job. If Louis Kahn and Jonas Salk could see the building today, I think they would be overjoyed.”