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Anne Tyng, Living in Geometry

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Photograph of triangular ceiling in Louis Kahn's Yale University Art Gallery.

Tetrahedronical ceiling inspired by Anne Tyng.

Photo of Yale University Art Gallery by Astarikov / Wikimedia.
Anne Tyng devoted her life to geometry and architecture. Widely considered a great influence on the early designs of architect Louis I.Kahn, Anne Griswold Tyng was, in her own right, an architectural visionary, theorist, and teacher.

Born:

July 14, 1920 in Lushan, Jiangxi province, China. The fourth of five children, Anne Griswold Tyng was the daughter of Ethel and Walworth Tyng, Episcopal missionaries from Boston, Massachusetts.

Died:

December 27, 2011, Greenbrae, Marin County, California (NY Times Obituary).

Education and Training:

  • 1937, St. Mary‘s School, Peekskill, New York.
  • 1942, Radcliffe College, Bachelor of Arts.
  • 1944, Harvard Graduate School of Design*, Master of Architecture. Studied Bauhaus with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Studied urban planning with Catherine Bauer.
  • 1944, New York City, briefly employed by industrial design firms.
  • 1945, moved to the Philadelphia home of her parents. Became the only female employee of Stonorov and Kahn. Worked on city planning and residential projects. Remained with Louis I. Kahn when the Stonorov and Kahn partnership broke up in 1947.
  • 1949, licensed to practice architecture. Joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA Philadelphia). Met Buckminster Fuller.
  • 1950s, associate consulting architect in Kahn‘s office. Continued to work on city of Philadelphia planning with Louis I. Kahn (Civic Center), while independently experimenting with habitable geometric designs (City Tower).
  • 1975, University of Pennsylvania, PhD in Architecture, with a focus on symmetry and probability.

* Anne Tyng was a member of the first class to admit women at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Classmates included Lawrence Halprin, Philip Johnson, Eileen Pei, I.M. Pei, and William Wurster.

Anne Tyng and Louis I. Kahn:

When 25-year-old Anne Tyng went to work for Philadelphia architect Louis I. Kahn in 1945, Kahn was a married man 19 years her senior. In 1954, Tyng gave birth to Alexandra Tyng, Kahn's daughter. Louis Kahn to Anne Tyng: The Rome Letters, 1953-1954 [Compare Prices] reproduces Kahn's weekly letters to Tyng during this time.

In 1955, Anne Tyng returned to Philadelphia with her daughter, purchased a house on Waverly Street, and resumed her research, design, and independent contract work with Kahn. Anne Tyng's influences on Louis I. Kahn architecture are most evident in these buildings:

"I believe our creative work together deepened our relationship and the relationship enlarged our creativity," Anne Tyng says of her relationship with Louis Kahn. "In our years of working together toward a goal outside ourselves, believing profoundly in each other‘s abilities helped us to believe in ourselves." (Louis Kahn to Anne Tyng: The Rome Letters, 1953-1954)

Important Work of Anne G. Tyng:

For nearly thirty years, from 1968 to 1995, Anne G. Tyng was a lecturer and researcher at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Tyng was widely published and taught "Morphology," her own field of study based on designing with geometry and mathematics—her life's work:

  • 1947, developed the Tyng Toy, a set of interlocking, plywood shapes that children could assemble and re-assemble. A Tyng Toy kit could be put together to build simple but usable objects, which could then be taken apart and re-assembled to make other objects. Children's furniture and toys included a desk, easel, stool, and wheeled toys. The Tyng Toy, featured in the August 1950 Popular Mechanics magazine (page 107), was exhibited in 1948 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


  • 1953, designed City Tower, a 216-foot high, geometrically intricate building for Philadelphia. In 1956, Louis Kahn envisioned tripling the height of the City Tower Project. Although never built, a model was exhibited in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibit Visionary Architecture in New York City, with Kahn giving little credit to Tyng.


  • 1965, Anatomy of Form: The Divine Proportion in the Platonic Solids, research project funded by a grant from the Graham Foundation, Chicago, Illinois.


  • 1971, Urban Hierarchy exhibited at AIA in Philadelphia. In a Domus Magazine interview, Tyng described the design of square houses along spiral roadways as a "cyclical sequence with recurring symmetries of squares, circles, helixes and spirals."


  • 1971–1974, designed the Four-Poster House, in which the structure of a modernist Maine vacation home is geometrically integrated with a piece of furniture, the four-poster bed.


  • 2011, Inhabiting Geometry, a walk-through exhibit of her life's work of shapes and forms at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania and the Graham Foundation, Chicago.

Tynge on City Tower

"The tower involved turning every level in order to connect it with the one below, making a continuous, integral structure. It's not about simply piling one piece on top of another. The vertical supports are part of the horizontal supports, so it is almost a kind of hollowed-out structure. Of course, you need to have as much usable space as possible, so the triangular supports are very widely spaced, and all the triangular elements are composed to form tetrahedrons. It was all three-dimensional. In plan, you get an efficient use of space. The buildings appear to turn because they follow their own structural geometric flow, making them look like they are almost alive....They almost look like they are dancing or twisting, even though they're very stable and not really doing anything. Basically the triangles form small-scale three-dimensional tetrahedrons that are brought together to make bigger ones, which in turn are united to form even bigger ones. So the project can be seen as a continuous structure with a hierarchical expression of geometry. Rather than being just one great mass, it gives you some sense of columns and floors."—2011, DomusWeb

Quotes by Anne Tyng:

"Many women have been scared away from the profession because of the strong emphasis on mathematics....All you really need to know are basic geometric principles, like the cube and the Pythagorean theorem."—1974, The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

"[For me, architecture] has become a passionate search for essences of form and space—number, shape, proportion, scale—a search for ways to define space by thresholds of structure, natural laws, human identity and meaning."—1984, Radcliffe Quarterly

"The greatest hurdle for a woman in architecture today is the psychological development necessary to free her creative potential. To own one's own ideas without guilt, apology, or misplaced modesty involves understanding the creative process and the so-called 'masculine' and 'feminine' principles as they function in creativity and male-female relationships."—1989, Architecture: A Place for Women

"Numbers become more interesting when you think of them in terms of forms and proportions. I am really excited about my discovery of a 'two volume cube', which has a face with divine proportions, while the edges are the square root in divine proportion and its volume is 2.05. As 0.05 is a very small value you can't really worry about it, because you need tolerances in architecture anyway. The 'two volume cube' is far more interesting than the 'one by one by one' cube because it connects you to numbers; it connects you to probability and all kinds of things that the other cube doesn't do at all. It is an entirely different story if you can connect to the Fibonacci sequence and the divine proportion sequence with a new cube."—2011, DomusWeb

Collections:

The Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania holds Anne Tyng's collected papers. The Archives is internationally known for the Louis I. Kahn Collection.

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