The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) announced this morning that after three years of research, construction is currently underway on a series of architectural conservation efforts aimed at restoring the luster of Louis Kahn’s seminal Southern California work, the Salk Insitute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.

The GCI is providing research and funding to enact necessary site repairs and develop a long-term conservation management plan at the 51-year old complex, widely considered to be one of Kahn’s masterworks. The complex is designed as a series of laboratories and offices overlooking a central courtyard facing the Pacific Ocean; its buildings are articulated in monolithic concrete walls and outfitted with custom-made teak windows. Kahn was originally commissioned to design the complex in 1965 as the new research base for the man credited with developing the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk.

The Institute’s beachside locale has resulted in extensive deterioration and a “non-uniform appearance” of those distinctive teak elements, which number 203 in total. Each window assembly was prefabricated by carpenters in accordance with a highly-customized fenestration regime for the building, with each aperture offering varied combinations of sliding window panes, louvres, and shutters. Research conducted by the GCI team discovered that the window walls were suffering from particular forms of deterioration resulting from the presence of a fungal biofilm growing on the frames, exposure to the elements, and the detrimental effects of prior maintenance efforts. Not only that, but researchers discovered that the windows also suffer from moisture infiltration resulting from a lack of flashing and weather stripping and, additionally, the outright failure of weather sealants. Over the course of their studies, researchers coordinated their efforts by studying original documentation in Kahn’s archives, performing laboratory analysis on in situ materials, and eventually developing full-scale mock-ups of the windows to test conservation approaches.

View of the first window wall being installed during construction, 1964. (Courtesy Salk Institute for Biological Studies archives)

View of the first window wall being installed during construction, 1964. (Courtesy Salk Institute for Biological Studies archives)

The conservation work, executed by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. of Pasadena, California, was launched in 2013. Now that research has concluded, construction has begun and the project is due to finish in the spring of 2017. London-based Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects are consulting on the project as well. Both teams worked on the recent conservation work performed at Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. The initiative to restore the architectural masterpiece was coordinated as part of the GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, a project that has also overseen conservation management plan for the Charles and Ray Eames House in Malibu, California. It’s funded by the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern Initiative.

Tim Whalen, director of the GCI, commented on the iconic nature of the project, saying, “The Salk Institute is an architectural icon, and the Getty was privileged to be invited by the Salk to work with them on the building’s long-term preservation. Our access to the site, its archives, and the Institute’s staff, some of whom have worked there since the early years, has been extraordinary,” adding, “The methodology developed by the GCI will serve as a roadmap for future conservation projects at the Salk Institute, as well as a model for other Louis Kahn buildings and buildings with similar conservation issues.”

A special lecture regarding the GCI’s conservation efforts at the Salk Institute is scheduled for October 5 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. That talk will be the first of many Kahn-related events occurring across the Southland this year, complementing a career retrospective on Kahn, Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture, hosted by the San Diego Museum of Art, set to open November 5, 2016, in San Diego.

Related Stories