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Salk Institute's Timeless Architecture Honored : Design: Twenty-Five-Year award recognizes Louis Kahn's 'vision and ability to unite art, science and philosophy.'

January 22, 1992|DIRK SUTRO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla has joined the elite of American architecture.

Louis Kahn's masterpiece has been selected as this year's winner of the prestigious Twenty-Five-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Dr. Jonas Salk, the institute's founder, will accept the honor tonight during ceremonies at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

First given in 1969 to the Rockefeller Center in New York, the Twenty-Five-Year Award is given each year to a building between 25 and 35 years old "that exemplifies a design of enduring significance," according to the AIA.

Situated on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Pacific, Kahn's original Salk Institute, completed in 1965, is considered by many architectural historians and critics to be the finest design by Kahn, who died in 1974.

Crafted of carefully formed concrete, the complex resonates with a mystical power. A spare central travertine courtyard is flanked by twin laboratory wings featuring study towers that extend into the courtyard. Between lab floors is an easily accessible core that houses all of the building's mechanical equipment, so that laboratories can be easily reconfigured.

"By creating an environment that was, in itself, a work of art, it was my hope that the Institute for Biological Studies would inspire the evocation of the art of science and that the symbiotic relationship between art and science would liberate and empower the creative forces for understanding nature and the human side of nature for improving the human condition," Salk said in a prepared statement for tonight's acceptance speech.

The AIA cited the institute's "vision and ability to unite art, science and philosophy in architectural form."

Ironically, this year's award comes as the Salk Institute moves ahead with plans for a $20-million addition to Kahn's original design. Some Kahn purists believe the 113,000-square-foot addition will violate the integrity of the building, which has a dramatic, mysterious approach through a eucalyptus grove that will be replaced, in part, by the new structure.

The addition has been approved by the city of San Diego and the California Coastal Commission, and the Salk Institute is in the process of getting its city building permits.

Construction of the building--designed by architects David Rinehart and Jack MacAllister, both former Kahn associates--is expected to begin next fall.

Kahn's Salk Institute is the third Twenty-Five-Year Award winner from California and the first from San Diego County.

Earlier California winners were the 1949 Pacific Palisades home of architect Charles Eames, and Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles, designed by several architects.

Other recipients have been Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building, both in New York City, and Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The nine-member AIA jury that selected the Salk Institute as this year's Twenty-Five-Year honoree was chaired by New York architect James Ingo Freed and included one California architect, Bobbie Sue Hood of San Francisco.

Freed said he hasn't seen the expansion plans, and the jury didn't discuss them.

"In general, expansion to a masterpiece is very difficult," he said. "I would say one would have to be very careful."

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