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Salk Expansion Foes Rebuffed

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A group seeking to halt a proposed addition to the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in La Jolla was handed some bad news Wednesday.

The California Coastal Commission, scheduled to vote on whether to hear an appeal on the expansion, has been given a staff report saying there are no grounds to block the expansion of the critically acclaimed building by architect Louis Kahn. The report recommends that the commission vote against hearing the appeal at its Wednesday meeting in Marina Del Rey.

“We’re certainly looking at this as a magnificent example of modern American architecture, but the grounds for appeal are very limited,” said Paul Webb, the coastal commission planner who wrote the report on the Salk Institute.

Opponents to the addition expressed surprise and anger at the news.

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“I was deeply disappointed that the points we made just seem to have no merit for the committee that reviewed it,” said Harriet Pattison, a former associate of Kahn who, along with his daughter Sue Anne Kahn and another former associate, Anne Griswold Tyng, is spearheading an effort to halt the addition. “I think it’s a tragedy if the present plans go through. For the last 15 years of his life, Lou Kahn worked on the Salk plans, particularly the plans for future development. They were splendid schemes for the entire site, and this has just been ignored in favor of a very shortsighted plan that Dr. (Jonas) Salk has engineered.”

The proposed $19.6-million, 113,000-square-foot addition would be built 120 feet to the east of the existing building. It would include a meeting center with a 300-seat auditorium, offices and labs and 32,000 square feet of space for future expansion.

The proposed addition was designed by architects Jack MacAllister and David Rinehart of Anshen + Allen (with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles), both former associates of Kahn. It would be 30 feet high--about 10 feet lower than Kahn’s original.

The appeal filed by Pattison, Tyng and Sue Anne Kahn, including letters of support from architects Robert A. M. Stern, Frank Gehry and others, makes four arguments against the addition:

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It alleges that the addition would prevent adequate public access to Kahn’s building, would block views of the original structure and the ocean, is not compatible in scale with the original building or the natural setting, and would significantly alter the natural landform of the institute’s coastal site.

Based on the Coastal Act of 1976, which was enacted to preserve California’s coastline, the commission staff found no grounds for the appeal.

The commission is charged with protecting coastal views and access, but does not protect views or access to buildings along the coastline, according to the report. Coastal access and views would not be impaired by the addition, according to the report; since there are currently no views of the site, the ocean or the existing building from North Torrey Pines Road, the addition would have no impact on these views, the report states.

The proposed 390-by-100-foot addition, which would consist of two wings split by a central entry courtyard, would not be out of scale with the existing building, according to the report. And the site of the proposed addition--a eucalyptus grove to the east of Kahn’s building--has previously been graded and altered, so there are no natural landforms that would be altered, the report concludes.

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If the commission follows its staff’s advice and rejects the appeal, the only remaining avenues open to opponents would be to file suit against the city of San Diego or the Coastal Commission, Webb said, or to continue their so far unsuccessful appeals to Salk, the institute’s founder, asking him to relocate the addition elsewhere on the 27-acre site.


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