Restoration work on teak paneling at Salk Institute is complete

Kahn Shines Again

Restoration work on teak paneling at Salk Institute is complete

The Getty Conservation Institute and architects Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. have completed restoration work on the teak window walls of Louis Kahn's Salk Institute complex. (Courtesy Elizabeth Daniels)

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and New York–based architecture firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE) have completed restoration work on the iconic Southeast Asian Teak window wall assembly units at Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute.

The restoration work began in 2013 and was funded by the GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative.

The existing 203 East Asian Teak wooden window assemblies were restored via a process that included the construction of elaborate mock-ups and the replacement of like-for-like components. (Courtesy Elizabeth Daniels)

According to a press release, the restoration team focused on rehabilitating the 54-year old custom-built wall panels, the elements of the complex that had most visibly fallen into disrepair over the decades. The panel systems had suffered from the inconsistent application of artificial sealers and finishes over the years, in addition to varying degrees of insect infestation and moisture infiltration, including a lack of flashing and weather stripping in certain areas. The project team also sought to relieve some of the 203 paneling modules of a fungal biofilm that had formed over boards along certain exposures.

Roughly two-thirds of the existing wood materials were retained through the restoration, a process that included redesigning certain components that were not performing adequately with regards to contemporary flashing and weather stripping techniques. (Courtesy Elizabeth Daniels)

Despite these maladies, the restoration team was able to save over two-thirds of the original wood. Kyle Normandin, WJE project manager and associate principal, said “the success of the project is that we were able to save so much of the original material,” a feat that required a multi-pronged approach that included performing historical research, constructing scale mock-ups, and developing a comprehensive set of construction documents in order to detail the restoration work. The scope of intervention on the existing components spanned from mere cleaning and minor repairs to complete removal and replacement using like-for-like materials. Certain portions of the window assemblies were also redesigned to better reflect the vast improvements in insulation and energy conservation practices that have taken place since the Salk Institute was originally built.

Tim Ball, senior director of facility services at the Salk Institute, highlighted the impact the improvements will have on the facility, saying “the teak will last a minimum of 50 to 70 years more thanks to the conservation plan.”

View at night overlooking the Pacific Ocean through the Salk Institute courtyard. (Courtesy Elizabeth Daniels)

In a statement, Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute, praised the outcome of the project as “an excellent example of what can be achieved when architects, scientists, and conservators are given the resources and time needed to develop practical solutions.” Whalen added that the project demonstrates “how best-practice conservation methodologies can be applied to future projects at the Salk and other works of modern architecture,” a precedent that will surely come in handy as the Salk Institute attempts to restore the concrete portions of the complex, which have also begun to show signs of aging.

The Institute recently launched a new architectural preservation-focused endowment fund that will focus on restoring these building components moving forward. To aid in the effort, WJE and consultants Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects have developed a comprehensive conservation management plan to guide the long-term care and restoration of the Salk Institute complex. The plan was funded by the Getty Foundation’s Keeping it Modern Initiative.