Esalen Institute

Big Sur, California - 1988

Esalen, the grand daddy of the “growth centers”, has become a world institution with its own mystique and awe-inspiring site on the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific.  The facilities, growing out of a fifty-year-old motel style accommodations and lodge, are continually being upgraded, but the main building is seriously run down and under-sized.  Esalen has a strong community of people, some of whom have had an association with the place of twenty-five years or more.  There are strong attachments to things as they are, in spite of dysfunction.

In being retained to develop plans for a new central facility, Sim Van der Ryn was warned to expect a lot of criticism.  The plan illustrated is the third preliminary, a replacement of the facility on its present footprint, except two stories.  A workable, truly conservative solution.  Enclosed spaces where the edge between outside and inside is not a clearly marked wall but a series of permeable membranes and spaces.  Outdoor rooms made of arbors and columns, buildings integrated with earth and growing forms.