Anne Tyng; her geometric ideas influenced architecture

University of Pennsylvania architectural archives
Anne Tyng taught for almost 30 years at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

NEW YORK - Anne Tyng, an architectural theorist who worked with the celebrated modern architect Louis I. Kahn and had a daughter with him, died Dec. 27 at her home in Greenbrae, Calif. She was 91.

Her death was confirmed by William Whitaker, curator of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, which holds Kahn’s collection as well as Ms. Tyng’s.

Ms. Tyng wrote extensively about geometric architecture, exploring ways to apply natural and numeric systems to buildings and urban design.


She gained early recognition for the Tyng Toy, a kit of wooden interlocking pieces that could turn into everything from workbenches to wagons. “The simplest six-piece assortment, from which one may make a chair, a stool, a pushcart, or rocking chair, is priced at $15,’’ The New York Times reported in 1950.

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She was well known for her ties to Kahn, whose most prominent works include the Yale University Art Gallery and the campus of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego.

Their personal relationship in the late 1940s and ’50s was explored by Kahn’s son Nathaniel in his 2003 documentary, “My Architect,’’ in which Ms. Tyng was interviewed. She and Kahn had a daughter, Alexandra, who survives her, as do two brothers, William and Franklin, and two grandchildren.

Anne Griswold Tyng was born in Jiangxi, China, to Episcopal missionaries. As a child, she spent hours carving cities out of the soft stone that surrounded her family’s summer retreat. After graduating from Radcliffe College in 1942, she was among the first women admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she studied architecture under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

Ms. Tyng went on to work in the New York offices of architect Konrad Wachsmann; the industrial design firms of Van Doren, Nowland & Schladermundt; and Knoll Associates. In 1945 she moved to Philadelphia, where she worked at Stonorov & Kahn; her projects there included a redevelopment plan for the City of Philadelphia. She never designed a building, however.


Though Kahn broke with Oscar Stonorov in 1947, Ms. Tyng continued as a member of Kahn’s staff until 1964, exerting critical influence on his work, including designs for the Yale Art Gallery and the Trenton Bath House in New Jersey.

Buckminster Fuller, the architect and futurist, once called her “Kahn’s geometrical strategist.’’

In 1975, Ms. Tyng received a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught for almost 30 years.

Most recently, she was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Graham Foundation in Chicago to create an installation embodying her thinking about geometry.

The installation, “Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry,’’ included five human-scale polygons known as Platonic solids, a massive spiral lifting from the wall, and a selection of drawings, models, and other documentation of past projects.


The Architect’s Newspaper said in its review, “To be inside the pure forms of a tetrahedron, dodecahedron, or icosahedron is to somehow experience both the ancient and the new.’’