Anne Tyng’s Timeless Work

Ahead of her time, in 1942 Anne Tyng began to create architectural magic.


Architecture works when it engages, sustains interest, stirs imagination and inspires. The finished product becomes timeless and eternal in its ability to silently teach, capture the present and preserve it for decades and possibly centuries to come.

Structurally what makes for great architecture? is helpful in answering that question. Good architecture is difficult to define, and this question is the cause of much debate! One of the best and arguably oldest definitions comes from the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who is famously quoted as saying:

”Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight.”

In other words, successful architecture must be well built, meet the needs of the client and its users, and be attractive. Because buildings last many decades, consideration must also be given to future users and the future society – issues of energy use and ‘sustainability’ is also crucial.

Attractiveness is a very subjective matter, but what is most important is that a buildings appearance is considered and designed, rather than just being purely functional, or being a particular color or shape just for the sake of it. Good architecture is well considered, and each design decision is taken for a good reason.

[pullquoteleft] I call architecture frozen music………..
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Female Competition International would like to pay homage to one of the most prolific female architects of modern times who recently passed away. Dr. Anne Tyng (PhD’75), a lecturer in GSFA, now known as the School of Design, from 1969 to 1998, passed away December 27, 2011 at age 91 we’re informed by the New York Times.

A prominent architectural theorist of the twentieth century, Ms. Tyng became central to the designs of famed architect Louis Kahn, with whom she reportedly had a daughter.

Ms. Tyng was born in Jiangxi, China in 1920 to Episcopal missionaries. Jiangxi is centered on the Gan River valley, which historically provided the main north-south transport route of south China. The corridor along the Gan River is one of the few easily traveled routes through the otherwise mountainous and rugged terrain of the south-eastern mountains. This open corridor was the primary route for trade and communication between the North China Plain and the Yangtze River valley in the north and the territory of modern Guangdong province in the south. As a result Jiangxi has been strategically important throughout much of China’s history.

Ms. Tyng’s parents, Ethel Atkinson (née Arens) and Walworth Tyng, were from old New England families. As a child, she spent hours carving cities out of the soft stone that surrounded her family’s summer retreat.

As a young woman, Ms. Tyng showed her developed sense of mathematics and design. The Tyng Toy, a construction set for children, illustrated her mastery of form. The Tyng Toy allowed a small selection of pieces to be combined into a wide variety of toys and pieces of furniture, ranging from a stool to a rocking horse, shares Wikipedia.

Dr. Tyng graduated from Radcliffe College in 1942. She graduated from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1944, where she was among one of the first women to be admitted. She was the only woman to enter the architecture licensing exam in 1949 and, at the test; one of the male proctors turned his back on her and refused to cooperate. She received her doctorate from Penn in 1975.

After graduating she went on to work for several New York offices before moving to Philadelphia to join Mr. Kahn’s firm, Stonorov & Kahn. When the firm split in 1947 Tyne continued working for Mr. Kahn. She never designed a building of her own, but, due to a shared fascination with geometry, she became critical to Kahn’s work. Some described her as his muse; Buckminster Fuller preferred to call her “Kahn’s geometrical strategist.” Many of Kahn’s designs show her influence, such as Trenton Bath House and the Yale Art Gallery, while Kahn’s “City Tower’ was mostly the work of Tyng.


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.

The Los Angeles Times also relates her influence first became visible in the design of the Trenton Bathhouse, which proved to be Kahn’s breakthrough. The deceptively simple arrangement of five cubes is still a fixture of architectural training. contributes the building that serves as the entrance to the swimming pool of the Trenton Jewish Community Center (JCC) is a pivotal work in the career of Louis I. Kahn, one of the towering figures of post–World War II architecture. Kahn’s influence has been compared to that of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe. In these buildings, it is possible to see the first hints of the modernist use of ancient geometric forms that would become Kahn’s signature.

Often called Kahn’s Trenton Bath House, the building, which opened in 1955, is located in Ewing Township, four miles from downtown Trenton. It consists of a basket room, atrium, changing rooms, and a porch that leads up to an Olympic-sized outdoor pool. When Kahn designed the Bath House, he envisaged an entire campus for the JCC, which was moving from the city center to the suburbs.

Ms. Tyng is also responsible for the triangular ceiling grid at the Yale Art Gallery, based on one of her favorite geometric forms, the tetrahedron. Not only did the triangular openings transform the rectilinear galleries into a dynamic space, but they also provided an accessible cove for the electrical wires and heating ducts. Although common today, it was the first time the approach was used.


“She was a victim of her time, being female, being beautiful. That was a pretty hard legacy to carry,” said Carter Wiseman, author of the biography Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style. “She was constantly swimming upstream.”

In recent years, she grew more vocal about the lack of credit she received for her work in Kahn’s office. But she also began to receive more recognition. In 2011 the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia organized the first retrospective of her work. In October, she was invited back to Harvard’s architecture schools as a keynote speaker.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes perhaps a million. Anne Griswold Tyng was an eternal beauty. She embodied elegance, forward vision, intelligence, and a well-rounded global upbringing. All of these fine qualities can be seen in her always relevant architectural designs.


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Sources:, Wikipedia,,,,,,,,, photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Credit Photos courtesy Wikimedia Ms. Tyng’s photo credit