Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

If there was any lingering doubt that Brutalism — the architectural style derided for everything the name implies — was back in fashion, the “Atlas of Brutalist Architecture” quashes it with a monumental thump. At 560 pages representing some 878 works of architecture in over 100 countries, the outsize volume is part reference tool, part coffee table book, and certainly part of an ongoing design trend favoring big, big books.

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It’s hard to believe that the Salk Institute is nearly a half-century old. Louis Kahn’s masterpiece, perched on Pacific bluffs in La Jolla, Calif., has always had a conflicted relationship with time. Critic Esther McCoy, in a 1967 issue of Architectural Forum, wrote that “Kahn has said that he builds for today, not the future, but Dr. [Jonas] Salk maintains that in the laboratory building the future was built into today.”

The Salk Institute might be enduring in its design. But even icons age. Today, the landmark needs significant work on its concrete and glass façade, as well a plan for maintaining the limestone courtyard. Kahn couldn’t have predicted that fungus spores would drift on marine air from nearby eucalyptus trees and take root on the building, discoloring and eroding the teak window screens.

Which is why the Salk teamed up with the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to develop a long-term preservation strategy for the site. Based on a condition survey, historical research at the Kahn archives in Philadelphia, DNA testing, and surface treatment analysis on the building’s façade, CGI came up with a conservation methodology. The Salk Institute Conservation Project, as it’s called, is a model field study within the Getty’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI). Read More …