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The Munk laboratory of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. Photo by Darren Bradley


The view from the conference room and offices of the Munk Laboratory.  Photo by Darren Bradley

The view from the conference room and offices of the Munk Laboratory. Photo by Darren Bradley


Munk Laboratory conference room, 1963. Walter Munk center right.  Photo: Sweeney-Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection

Munk Laboratory conference room, 1963. Walter Munk center right. Photo: Sweeney-Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection


The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego has named the Munk Laboratory, a post and beam structure at the center of its oceanfront campus, for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The proponents cite the organic character of the redwood building and mid-century modern post-and-beam style, but also its importance as a site of historic scientific discoveries. The building, completed in 1963, is named after iconic geophysicist Walter Munk, who was the first head of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) center in La Jolla. Munk made fundamental observations of ocean waves, tidal forces, and acoustic properties that have influenced generations of scientists. Other researchers made important contributions to the theory of plate tectonics by working in the IGPP complex, while still others created the first digital seismograph and the first ocean-floor seismograph there.

Carmen Pauli, architect of Heritage Architecture and Planning in San Diego, said the request for historic designation began last year when her firm supervised the renovations at the complex. The building, she said, is special not only because of its association with Munk but also with its architect Lloyd Ruocco, one of the most important in San Diego in the mid-20th century. Other buildings in Ruocco include the Design center in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego, built in 1949. The modern design, materials and workmanship of the posts and beams remain intact to this day, as evidenced by the redwood exterior, flat roof with eave overhanging and floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors.

Ruocco “is one of the most important figures of the modern movement in San Diego,” said Pauli. “This may be his number one or his two most important buildings of all time.”

The nomination is submitted to the California State Office of Preservation on July 30, and advocates are encouraging members of the Scripps community and the interested public to submit letters of support. If the state entity approves the request, they will forward it to the National Park Service and recommend that the building be added to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation would allow the building to be considered eligible for various infrastructure grants, Pauli said.

Camilla Ingram, director of capital programs and space management at Scripps Oceanography, and Wayne Farquharson, manager of management services for the IGPP, are leading the nomination effort.

“The Munk Lab embodies several unique design features that stand out from other science buildings of the day and help inspire the design of new buildings,” said Ingram. “As such, it should be recognized nationally.

The building was the first manifestation in Scripps Oceanography of the Institute for Geophysics, a research entity conceived in the dying days of World War II and initially based at UCLA. Scripps Oceanography had been affiliated with UCLA prior to the establishment of UC San Diego in 1960. Scripps Oceanography director Roger Revelle gave Munk the opportunity to start the branch from scratch and serve as the premier manager in large part to counter the offers Munk was receiving. from Harvard and MIT to join their faculties.

Texas Instruments founder Cecil Green provided financial support for the construction of the lab, which was completed in 1963. Ruocco, whose mantra was that “good architecture should require minimal use of materials for the loudspeaker. most interesting and the most functional of the space ”, was chosen as architect. Munk’s wife, Judith, herself an architect by training, worked with him to plan the layout of the building.

The upper part of the building faces east-west and juts out to the edge of the cliff with spectacular ocean views from Scripps Pier and the Pacific Ocean. The natural sloping topography of the site allows exterior access to all levels of the building. The lower wing of the laboratory also featured large sliding glass doors with access to loading areas that made it easy to load large oceanographic and acoustic equipment from laboratories to ships.

A landscape created by the firm Harriet Wimmer and Joseph Yamada surrounds the building and shares the aesthetic of the integration laboratory in a surrounding environment. Their design includes mature melaleuca trees, pittosporum and juniper shrubs among the walkways, and small secluded gardens for contemplation. The green had the sculpture Spring agitation by artist Donal Hord bought and moved to a location just north of the lab.

Walter Munk’s vision for the lab was to be a place to study geophysics in its broadest sense, embracing the holistic view of the field that his mentor and former Scripps director Harald Sverdrup had taken from oceanography. years earlier. Shortly after its founding, however, its scope was further expanded – and the name of the institute changed – to include planetary physics when astronomers Geoffrey and Margaret Burbridge made temporary home in the lab after joining the UC San Diego.

“Even a modest post-doctoral fellow like me had a nice office with a great ocean view on the top floor; the students, too, had desks as beautiful as those of eminent professors like John Miles and Carl Eckart, ”said Robert Parker, professor emeritus of geophysics who had headed the IGPP. “In the late 1960s when I arrived there were also physics teachers like Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge on the top floor because Urey Hall was still under construction. Geoffrey called his wife loudly when he had an idea he wanted to discuss with her. It was a lively place. “

While at the IGPP, Parker and his colleagues such as geophysicists George Backus and Freeman Gilbert created what is known as the inverse theory, which applied mathematical models to describe concepts such as elasticity and density. of the earth’s mantle and core. IGPP geophysicist David Sandwell created the methodology to map the ocean floor using gravity measurements. The result is now the basis for representations of the seabed seen on computer applications such as Google Earth.

In the 1970s, the university created a complementary building known as the Revelle Lab, which is adjacent to the Munk Lab separated by the Biological Grade road. The addition reproduces the construction style of the original building in terms of materials and design.

The spirit of Munk Lab manifests itself in subtle ways. Instead of assigning office numbers, each office in the building is identified with a photo of a scientist who contributed to geophysics. The doors feature snapshots of people like Edwin Hubble, namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope, and John von Neumann, a Manhattan Project scientist who, among other things, introduced the term “kiloton” to quantify the size of nuclear explosions. Munk’s own gate was identified by a portrait of ocean circulation pioneer Herbert Stommel.

In Munk Lab’s conference rooms, several original pieces of furniture were custom-designed by Ruocco specifically for the space, including a modular curved chalkboard and a two-piece modular curved conference table. Munk had the initial idea of ​​making a board in the boardroom long enough to hold an entire lecture, and Ruocco suggested curving it around the room. Tapa rags collected by Munk and Revelle in Tonga during the Capricorn Expedition of 1952-53, in which Scripps oceanographic researchers surveyed a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, hang from the walls to provide insulation phonic but also as a nod to the history of Scripps.

Ingram said that the influence of Judith Munk, “who understood how scientists worked and how to improve their efforts,” can be seen in design touches such as built-in bookcases and the addition of common spaces between desks. to facilitate interactions between scientists. Large sliding glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows accentuate the building occupants’ sense of connection with the surrounding environment. The atmosphere of the building is intended to convey an unusual warmth and humanity for laboratories.

“We thought it should be more like a house than a room,” Walter Munk said in an interview in 1997. “More flexible. And the choice of redwood is tied to that. We chose Lloyd Ruocco. He didn’t. had never built a laboratory building, we thought that was a great asset.

“The main concept of the building was to encourage collaboration between faculty, scientific staff and graduate students,” said Ingram. “To do this, many desks, both for professors and staff, are located on a mezzanine above the assembly labs, the conference rooms and meeting spaces are strategically placed. Traffic patterns encourage chance encounters, and there is a general feeling of openness that takes advantage of the magnificent site.

Letters in support of the historic designation can be sent by mail to Julianne Polanco, State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), Office of Historic Preservation, 1725 23rd St., Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95816 or by email at info .calshpo @

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