Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017

California's Salk Institute Gets Some Window Dressing In Restoration

Restored windows at the Salk Institute

photo by: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates

The innovative windows of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies were restored to their original appearance.

For more than 50 years, researchers at the coastal Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, have enjoyed an elegantly practical feature that architect Louis Kahn included in its iconic buildings. Kahn punctuated the structures’ folded concrete planes with teak-clad windows that use sliding sashes to modulate ocean breezes and operable louvers to control natural light. But after a half-century of service, the teak was beset with a host of age-related indignities, including termite damage, fungal growth, and degradation from UV exposure.

A newly completed restoration, led by consulting engineers Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE), has rewound the clock, returning the innovative window assemblies to their original 1960s appearance and function. Associate principal Kyle Normandin oversaw the project, which followed a 2015–16 effort by the Getty Conservation Institute to guide the development of a long-term conservation management plan (also done by WJE) for the site. Approximately 220 window walls were repaired and refinished, each according to Kahn’s original plans and material selections.

“It was very surgical,” Normandin says. “We had a specific repair approach for each window. As a result, we only had to replace about 30 percent of the teak.”

Bruce D. Snider is an architect, writer, and editor based in Belfast, Maine.

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