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Kahn Fans Oppose Salk Addition : Design: Relatives of the late architect are lobbying against the institute's expansion plans, saying the original building has become something of a shrine.

May 30, 1991|DIRK SUTRO

LA JOLLA — Relatives of the late architect Louis Kahn have banded together to lobby against a proposed addition to the Salk Institute, Kahn's La Jolla masterpiece.

The institute wants to add 113,000 square feet in a new building more than 100 feet to the east of Kahn's original, with stands of eucalyptus and jacaranda trees surrounding the new structure. The $19.2-million structure, which would serve as the institute's entry, would house a meeting center with a 300-seat auditorium, offices and labs, plus 32,000 square feet of space for expansion.

At a meeting this morning, the city of San Diego Planning Commission will consider the proposal, which has been recommended for approval by the city's Planning Department. But, even if the project, which was first unveiled last March, is approved, appeals can be made to the City Council.

The clash of opinions, with the institute, the architects and the planning department on one side, and the family and some devotees of the late architect on the other, calls to mind the furor that surrounded a planned addition to the Kahn-designed Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Tex. that began in late 1989. After insistent protests from Kahn's family and some of his former associates, that project was canceled last year.

Unlike the Kimbell addition, the new Salk building does not attempt to exactly duplicate the style of the original. However, like Kahn's La Jolla building, the new structure would be made of concrete.

Those who oppose the addition argue that, since its completion in 1965, the Salk Institute has become an architectural shrine. The building, with its twin wings of laboratories flanking a wide plaza, attracts a steady parade of visitors from all over the world. They come to pay homage to these bold forms, which change so dramatically with the time of day, the seasons and the light.

The building's functional design includes a full-height mechanical core that allows lab spaces to be easily reconfigured to meet the institute's changing needs. The ocean views and natural light in the study towers that line the courtyard give the institute's scholars an uplifting place to retreat from the daily grind.

Some who are faithful followers of Kahn, who died in 1974, argue that placing an addition in the middle of a eucalyptus grove to the east of the existing complex would annihilate the mystical experience of discovering the building after a wander through the trees.

The proposed additional building is configured in matching halves split by an entry court that would align with wide plaza between the halves of Kahn's building. It would be 30 feet high--15 feet lower than the original.

The raging dialogue over the addition, designed by architects Jack MacAllister and David Rinehart of Anshen + Allen (with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles), both of whom worked with Kahn on the original, picked up steam following an article in Architecture magazine last month in which MacAllister claimed that the project has the blessing of Kahn's widow Esther Kahn, and Sue Anne Kahn, their daughter.

"Jack MacAllister notwithstanding, my mother and I have not given our blessing to this proposal," said Sue Anne Kahn in a phone interview last week.

A frustrated MacAllister strongly objected to Kahn's contentions, saying Kahn and her mother initially gave the project their OK after Rinehart presented the design to them in New York City in March. He claimed they only changed their minds later.

"At first, my mother thought it (the Salk addition) seemed OK," Sue Anne Kahn conceded after hearing MacAllister's response. "But then she gave it some thought, and she feels it blocks the existing building from the east. The thing with my mother is, she spent a tremendous effort fighting the Ft. Worth building, and she is tired."

But not all who knew or worked with Kahn agree. For example, former Kahn associates Thomas Vreeland, now an architecture professor at UCLA, and Moshe Safdie, an internationally known architect, have written the Planning Department in support of the addition.

On the other hand, architect Anne Tyng, a former professional and romantic associate of Kahn's, has written Dr. Jonas Salk, the institute's founder, opposing the addition. If it is approved, she said she will appeal to the City Council, and will not be satisfied with anything less than putting the addition elsewhere on the institute's property.

"The location of the proposed addition as an 'entrance' in front of the existing building and plaza gives a lesser work of architecture precedence and prominence over a masterpiece," she stated in her March letter to Salk.

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