The Salk Institute La Jolla, CA Architect: Louis Kahn photo © Paul Dingman 2009

Every architecture student studies  Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute.  It is a masterpiece.  The rough unfinished faceted concrete walls give it a timeless quality – like a modern day Stonehenge.  The infinity steam connects the sky with the plaza.  The entire project opens skyward.  Each day, it frames the glorious colors of sunset on the Pacific coast.

I visited there a few years ago.  I was struck by the peace of the place. It is very quiet and tranquil. It was fun to see a few surfboards and bicycles parked up against the walls.  But as I walked through the great plaza I wondered why Kahn resisted suggestions to landscape the place.  It is barren – no trees, no shrubs, no flowers. When I got to the far end of the plaza I knew the answer.  I could still hear the sound of the water gurgling up and cascading down into the infinity stream at the other end of the plaza.  It reverberated off the hard surfaces, and filled the plaza. I was very impressed with this experience.  How many architectural projects feature a distinctive sound created within the architectural design?

When it came time to create my masterpiece of The Salk, I decided not to wait for sunset.  That is the obvious choice for most photographers.  I chose to shoot on a luminously cloudy afternoon to minimize dark shadows and capture the most detail in the concrete facades.  The camera angle was chosen to emphasize the design along with the spring and the water. Architectural photography is all about bringing design to light, but it should also suggest to the viewer what it’s really like to be there.  When I look at this photo, I feel the peace and tranquility, I see the details in the bold unfinished concrete, and I can hear the sound of the spring and the water.  I think my Salk photo is very successful because it takes the viewer there on a sensory level.

Paul Dingman is an architectural photographer living in China and working throughout Asia. He designs photographs for architects.

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