Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lou Kahn: Heroic Genius

Lou Kahn was born today in 1901.

I wrote a little bit about him in this post from 2011.  I don't have much more to add to the volumes that have been written about his work, except to say that he's a personal favorite of mine, and definitely holds a place of honor in my Pantheon.  If documentaries are your thing, you might enjoy My Architect, the documentary film about Kahn, his architecture, and his complex private life, made by his son Nathaniel. It is quite personal and touching, and is one of my favorite architectural documentaries.

Here in SoCal, we are very lucky to have one of the very best of Kahn's masterpieces, the Salk Institute. After Jonas Salk cured polio, he built a massive research institute along the coast at LaJolla. According to the Salk Institute website,
The Salk Institute was established in the 1960s by Jonas Salk, M.D., the developer of the polio vaccine. His goal was to establish an institute that would explore questions about the basic principles of life. He wanted to make it possible for biologists and others to work together in a collaborative environment that would encourage them to consider the wider implications of their discoveries for the future of humanity.
Jonas Salk had a distinct vision for the Salk Institute as he worked with scientists and architects to create a new paradigm for research and collaboration.
In December 1959, Salk and architect Louis Kahn began a unique partnership to design such a facility. Salk summarized his aesthetic objectives by telling the architect to "create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso." Kahn, who was a devoted artist before he became an architect, was able to respond to this challenge.
Last summer, I got to spend a little time at the Salk, during an outing from OCON.  We spent a leisurely hour and a half or so, wandering around the outdoor passageways and courtyards.  Although the building is most famous for its epic main courtyard and orientation to the Pacific Ocean, I find the most compelling part to be the complex layering of spaces comprising the stairwells and balconies around the researchers' private studies.

So, without further ado, here are my pictures from that day (the first and last were by Eric, and the rest were mine.)