In 1965, Louis Kahn completed what can arguably be considered his finest work, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, located in La Jolla, California. Kahn built this iconic piece of modern architecture with the spiritual quality of monasteries in mind, ultimately creating a monumental, intellectual retreat at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It's perfectly tranquil in all of its concrete and wood glory — but, because of the structure’s proximity to the salty and sandy marine environment, it is at a preservation disadvantage. Visitors today can clearly note how the teak wood “window walls” are taking a beating.
So, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), in partnership with the Salk Institute, are working together as part of the GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) to develop a plan for conserving the monumental building. The CMAI, in operation only since 2012, is in place to help with the distinct challenges of conserving modern architecture that, with all the innovative techniques and use of materials, is rapidly deteriorating.
Conservation groups are lacking the information and research necessary to preserve the structures as quickly as we’re losing them. As a remedy, the CMAI is an institution that works to identify key research questions and issues affecting modernist landmarks and, at the same time, examines and studies those concerns and how they apply to a wide variety of building types and geographic areas. Their findings are then dispersed to preservationists in the field.
Thus, in partnering with the Salk Institute, they hope to thoroughly survey and develop a methodology and technique for saving the deteriorating teak in the long-term. The great part about these two institutions coming together is that both are equipped with the researchers needed to develop a master plan for safeguarding Kahn’s masterpiece.
They’ve already begun the investigation phase of this project, which will take at least 18 months to complete before the results are compiled into a guide for the conservation of teak that is exposed to harsh aquatic situations. The huge and painstaking undertaking is a significant step in the formation of a plan for conserving modern architecture and the research will provide the field with a set of tools that are currently lacking. Plus, a gorgeous piece of architectural history is saved in the process.
For more information about the GCI’s collaboration with the Salk Institute, CMAI, or other GCI projects, visit www.getty.edu/conservation.
Images via Salk Biological Institute