"A different kind of beauty": Scientific and architectural style in I. M. Pei's Mesa Laboratory and Louis Kahn's Salk Institute

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Abstract

I. M. Pei's Mesa Laboratory for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, are rare examples of laboratories as celebrated for their architecture as for their scientific contributions. Completed in the mid-1960s, these signature buildings still express the scientific style of their founding directors, Walter Roberts and Jonas Salk. Yet in commissioning their laboratories, Roberts and Salk had to work with architects as strong-willed as themselves. A close reading of the two laboratories reveals the ongoing negotiations and tensions in collaborations between visionary scientist and visionary architect. Moreover, Roberts and Salk also had to become architects of atmospheric and biomedical sciences. For laboratory architecture, however flexible in theory, necessarily stabilizes scientific practice, since a philosophy of research is embedded in the very structure of the building and persists far longer than the initial vision and mission that gave it life. Roberts and Salk's experiences suggest that even the most carefully designed laboratories must successfully adapt to new disciplinary configurations, funding opportunities, and research priorities, or risk becoming mere architectural icons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-221
Number of pages49
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Volume38
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

Keywords

  • Biomedical research
  • Climate modeling
  • I. M. Pei
  • Jonas Salk
  • Laboratory architecture
  • Laboratory design
  • Louis Kahn
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Salk Institute
  • Walter Roberts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science

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