We are fortunate to get the opportunity to consult on and provide materials for a lot of cool and even historic projects. The Salk Institute in San Diego, designed by reknown architect Louis Kahn in 1965, was just such a project. Kahn’s creation of concrete with Teak window walls is striking but in recent years that vision has been blemished by the fungi staining and highly weathered appearance of the Teak wood. The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) took charge of this historic restoration and we approached them about how we might help with the Teak wood in particular since we not only import and stock a very large quantity of the lumber, but we have been working with the species and crafting solutions with it for decades. What we discovered during initial consultation only affirmed our belief in Teak as a superior wood for exterior use, even in the harsh environment of Salk’s gorgeous ocean front locale, but it also tested our ability to source and select the right material for a seamless match to the original wood.
This project was first and foremost a restoration initiative with an eye to reusing as much of the Teak as possible. The GC, Rudolph and Sletten, did an amazing job and in the end 2/3 of the material was salvaged and restored to new. 1960s exterior finishing technology wasn’t close to what we can do today and the marine varnish essentially trapped moisture allowing fungus to grow and stain the wood. Add to this the lack of flashing and other weather shedding construction methods and over time moisture will always win. Because of this, some of the Teak began to rot. The fact that 2/3 of the material was salvageable is a testament to the durability of Teak as an exterior species. Needing to replace the remaining 1/3 of the Teak was a major success because as GCI was soon to discover, finding Teak that matches the appearance of the material from the 1960s was not going to be an easy task.
Initially the specifications for the 30,000 some board feet of Teak needed for a “like for like” replacement was daunting. All old growth material with a specific number of growth rings per inch, 100% quartersawn boards and a variety of non standard sizes. We were concerned about whether this was even possible to achieve in such a large volume especially due to the fact that a log embargo and limits on export out of Myanmar had just been levied. We visited the job site and began to inspect the material that had been salvaged and the material to be replaced in order to get a better feel for what the “like for like” specification actually meant. These site visits were extremely helpful as we were able to discern that not all of the material was quartered and certain construction techniques could be altered to significantly reduce the amount of lumber actually needed to complete the job.
Armed with new specifications and a much better idea of the total scope of the project we invited the GCI representatives to visit our yard and we were able to share with them the chain of custody and demonstrate the legality and sustainability of the material we import. Moreover, they discovered that we had such a large volume of Teak already in stock that there were quite a lot of options for getting that like for like match. We partnered with their staff wood scientist and some of their restoration staff to discuss the specific characteristics of Teak and how its beauty could be maintained and finished for decades to come. Finally we began the process of hand selecting more than 30,000 board feet of material and delivering it to the San Diego site.
This was a fascinating project to be a part of, and we were honored to play a role in the restoration of such an important landmark in life sciences and architecture. By partnering with GCI and through the value engineering of the specifications, analysis of the construction methods, the ability to monitor and certify the sourcing of the material, as well as being able to meet deadlines due to the volume of material already on the ground at our yard; we were able to effect a 50% cost reduction from initial estimates on the total material. This is exactly what we talk about when we say “value engineering”.