Inviting Picasso into the Laboratory: Form and the Exchange of Ideas at Three Modern Laboratories

Kathleen Irwin


The belief that laboratories should be designed with the goal of bringing scientists from different departments together to exchange ideas is widespread. However, attempts at encouraging communication sometimes create conflict between the intentions of the architect and the needs of scientists. This thesis calls into question the myth of the scientist as an isolated genius through the study of laboratory architecture, focusing on, Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and Frank Gehry’s Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Based on original archival research, this thesis provides an analysis of primary sources from the architectural archives at the University of Pennsylvania and the Salk Papers at UC San Diego. This interdisciplinary topic also requires the analysis of secondary sources from a wide range of fields, including architectural history, history of science and sociology. As I demonstrate, each of these three architects manipulated the buildings’ plans to include spaces for social interaction. From the iconic courtyard of the Salk Institute and Saarinen’s long corridors at Bell Labs to the winding student street of the Stata Center, the spaces intended by architects to promote interaction often are not used as designed. A study of these three laboratories traces the history of modern architecture through the lens of one building type, allowing us to see the way that three important architects solve similar problems for similar groups of users and arrive at different solutions.


Laboratories; Modernism; Architecture

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