Salk Institute
Credit: Eddie Brady / Getty Images

The Salk Institute is a study in contrasts. The brutalist masterpiece consists of parallel boxy structures made from heavy cement mixes, but – thanks largely to a large central courtyard bisected by a small stream running downhill toward the Pacific – the effect is light and airy. The complex is probably the best known building designed by Louis Kahn, the architect famous for popularizing the use of concrete and creating monolithic but contemplative works and the subject of the great documentary "My Architect." From an aesthetic perspective, the Institute lets the Pacific do a lot of the heavy lifting, which is exactly the point. Visitors can (and do) wander the grounds, frequently on their way to or from the Nixon Presidential Library.