Back in late 2017 I visited the Salk Institute (1965) designed by modernist architect Louis Kahn and referred to by many as the “Taj Mahal of Brutalism.”
Brutalism is a style of architecture, characterized by the use of concrete, heavy geometric forms and most commonly seen in institutional buildings. The concrete style is polarizing, people either love or hate it. The Salk Institute is considered by many to be the greatest example of brutalist architecture in the United States.
The Salk Institute’s architectural design, its ocean front location, and the building’s purpose (science), harmonize together in a way that has to be experienced in person to truly appreciate. To connect design, location and purpose together in a meaningful and effective way, I imagine is one of the greatest challenges of an architect. Kahn has beatifully pulled it off here, evident by its relevance today, celebration by Kahn’s peers, and the number of people that pilgrimage to the site simply to experience the building.
I like brutalist architecture. I like the use of concrete, which is my favorite material for its organic qualities. I like the simple geometric shapes, minimalsitically presented. I like how the buildings feel timeless. For me, brutalist buildings age very well. The concrete only looks better with time. Which, I would say is true for the Salk Institute. It looks great today. And it feels good too. Walking around the plaza, through the outdoor hallways, the design had a physical impact on me unlike what most buildings can offer.
I highly recommend visiting the Salk when in the San Diego area, you won’t be disappointed.