SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Salk Institute. Concrete Theatre
11 May 2018
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
Buildings by nature seek to dominate space. At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the experience is wholly different – in this isolated picturesque setting: space dominates building.
At first sight, the architecture appears anonymous, sculptural and silent. Lost along the Californian coast, it is situated a stone’s throw away from San Diego in La Jolla. We can imagine it as an untouched gem in a post war scenario: a living ruin, capable of projecting worlds of its own. The fact that its primary function is a laboratory is rendered irrelevant – the real beauty of the architecture lies in its ability to transcend its programme to become a timeless space. It is not conceptually distant from the plaster edifices of Hollywood and Cinecittà. In this concrete theatre we become puppets in the middle of a brushed brutality: elegant in its hardness and poetic in its staging.
It is a joy mixed with melancholy (beauty often has this double effect) which pervades us as we venture onto the large square – the core of the complex. The expansive horizontal surface becomes a travertine nave, where a stream of water catches our attention. Trapped in its rigid linear form, it slices the space into two, giving it strength and directionality, almost in an attempt of showing us the way to the apsides.
The sea and the sky await us at the end of this visual journey. Here, we feel the need to abandon ourselves to the bucolic landscape, eager to embrace the horizon, the only altar to which we devote ourselves. Immersed in nature we forget architecture, which becomes merely a framing tool.
As a result of this spiritual promenade, we strive to cling onto tangible elements. While approaching the buildings, they begin to gain consistency, no longer as sculptures, but as refined objects with their own materiality. The concrete conveys a certain attention to detail in line with Louis Kahn’s ideology. The formwork panels are separated by a think gap which allows the fluid material to escape thus resulting in the visible joint. The result is a rectangular composition giving rhythm and tactility to the facade.
Ultimately, these details remain secondary in a space where the goal is to seduce and intoxicate, provoking the visitor to question it and in turn understand it. It is a void in which endless mental connections come to life. As Kahn would say, it is a space governed only by ‘silence and light’.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.
Exit the metro station at Hatchobori and walk along the main road towards the Kamejima River. Just before the bridge take a right turn, you might end up in a narrow street where you will stumble upon a curious object – squashed between two housing blocks: an urban vertical forest. It is the Garden House, designed by Ryue Nishizawa.
“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth…
Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man has equaled if not surpassed the force of nature.
Water temple, designed by Tadao Ando, hides in the inland of Awaji Island. Despite its close proximity to the sea (only a 15 min walk) the building turns its back to the ocean to embrace the hillside. The road to reach it, is deserted and steep: a series of greenhouses and fields are the only panorama’s highlights.