Salk Institute Conservation Project

Completed in 1965, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California is considered to be one of architect Louis I. Kahn's finest works and an iconic work of modern architecture with international significance. The GCI has partnered with the Salk Institute to address the aging and long-term care of the buildings' teak window wall assemblies, which are one of the major elements of the architectural ensemble.


Kahn was commissioned by Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, to design an inspiring campus for his new scientific research institute to be located a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Kahn's design consists of two nearly identical wings of laboratory, study, and office space mirroring each other on either side of a paved central plaza. The exterior materials palette consists of concrete, teak, glass, travertine, lead, and steel.

After nearly fifty years in an exposed marine environment, the teak wood at the pre-fabricated window wall assemblies in the studies and offices has weathered to a non-uniform appearance, is deteriorated, and is in need of repair.

Scope and Goals

The GCI has entered into a collaborative partnership with the Salk Institute to undertake an examination, investigation, and condition survey of the teak wood cladding, wood-framed substructure, and teak sliding windows, louvers, and shutters and to develop treatment recommendations for their long-term care and conservation.

This will be carried out through historical research, on-site condition surveys, and laboratory analysis of wood samples to determine wood species, weathering and deterioration mechanisms, and past surface treatments.

The GCI will perform a significance assessment and detailed diagnosis that will guide the development of treatment recommendations for cleaning, repair, and potential replacement of elements that are deteriorated beyond repair. Treatments will be tested on site through a series of mock-ups, which will be used to further evaluate their suitability.

The results of this work will be used by the Salk Institute to guide implementation of a conservation project at the teak window wall assemblies.

Additionally, the Salk Institute will be able to utilize the methodology established in this project when planning for the care and maintenance of the site's other significant historic elements in the future.

Page updated: July 2014