Anne Tyng



14 July 1920(Birth)

27 December 2011(Death)


Anne Griswold Tyng was born on July 14, 1920 in Lushan, Jiangxi province, China in 1920, the fourth child of Ethel Arens and Walworth Tyng, Episcopalian missionaries with roots dating back to the Massachusetts Bay colony. Tyng recalled spending long hours carving cities out of the soft stone surrounding her parents’ summer retreat and her birthplace. While the Tyng family would periodically return to the United States during sabbatical years, Anne moved permanently to the United States in 1938 to study fine arts at Radcliffe College and, during her final year there, architecture through a program of the Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, the first institution to offer design training to women only.

Tyng devoted her career to achieving a synthesis of geometric order and human consciousness within architecture. Since the 1950s, when she worked closely with Louis I. Kahn and independently pioneered habitable space-frame architecture, Tyng applied natural and numeric systems to built forms on all scales, from urban plans to domestic spaces. Her work and ideas pushed the spatial potential of architecture and, as noted by Graham Foundation Director Sarah Herda, continue to “resonate deeply with contemporary architects who are working with complex geometry as a source for new forms in building. She was at the forefront of experimentation in the field."

Following the outbreak of World War II, Tyng continued her education at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she studied architecture under Walter Gropius, Joseph Hudnut, and Marcel Breuer. Among the first group of women admitted to the GSD, the Bauhaus-inspired training she received at Harvard equipped her with a "fervor for the 'box' [and] a bare-boned dedication to low-cost housing and the purer forms of the international style."

Upon graduation from Harvard in 1944, Tyng was employed in the New York offices of architect Konrad Wachsmann (1944), as well as the industrial design firms of Van Doren, Nowland and Schladermundt (1944) and Knoll Associates (1944-45). Moving to Philadelphia in 1945, Tyng began working in the office of Oscar Stonorov and Louis Kahn, where she engaged in a range of projects such as the "Triangle Area Re-Development Plan” (1946-52) for Philadelphia. In 1953, Tyng became the first architect to frame a traditional peaked-roof house with fully triangulated three-dimensional truss when she designed an addition to her parents’ nineteenth-century farmhouse in Cambridge, Maryland. She gained early recognition for her Tyng Toy, a kit of wooden puzzle-like pieces from which children could build furniture and other things. Following Kahn's disassociation with Stonorov in 1947, Tyng continued as a member of his staff where she remained active until 1964. During this period, Tyng exerted a critical influence on Kahn's work, most notably in his designs for the Yale University Art Gallery (1951-53), the Philadelphia City Tower (1952-57) and the Trenton Bath House (1955-56). Kahn and Tyng also collaborated on the Eserhick Studio and on Bryn Mawr's Erdman Hall. Tyng's efforts both defined and reinforced Kahn's, providing the foundation for a new direction in architectural form and thought in the decades that followed. 

Evidence of Tyng's person style can be found in her former residence, known as the Tyng house, in Philadelphia's Fitler Square. On its third floor, the building features a pyramidal timber-framed ceiling and slotted windows. Its staircase also utilizes openwork metal screens that she had originally chosen for the Yale Art Gallery project. Tyng also designed the Four-Poster House in Mount Desert Island, Maine. Using logs and cedar shakes, she sought to make the house seem like an outgrowth of its natural environment. The house was structured around the concept of a four-poster bed, with four central columns, each made from a cluster of four tree trunks, and a top floor entirely given over to a master bedroom. 

In 1964, Tyng left Kahn’s firm, where she had been a partner. The following year, she became one of the first women to receive a fellowship from the Graham Foundation Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts for her project Anatomy of Form: The Divine Proportion in the Platonic Solids. In her research she developed a theory of hierarchies of symmetries within symmetries and a search for architectural insight and revelation in the consistency and beauty of all underlying form. Her search for the essence of constructive geometry that began in Kahn's office guided her independent design work, research and writing in the pursuit of discovering the inherent relationships and hierarchies associated with the geometry of architecture and their links to the development of the conscious mind. Her articles "Urban Space Systems as Living Form"(1968-69), "Geometric Extensions of Consciousness"(1969) and "Simultaneous Randomness and Order: The Fibonacci-Divine Proportion As a Universal Forming Principle" (1975) focus on the linkages between architectural history and the "geometric progression from simplicity to complexity of symmetric forms linked by asymmetric process.”

Throughout her career, Tyng was not immune to the sexism that pervaded the male-dominated architectural profession. She fought to be credited for her work on the Philadelphia City Tower when Kahn left her name off a label of a model displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. Kahn and Tyng had a personal relationship in the late 1940s and ’50s and they had a daughter, Alexandra. Although Kahn was married and Tyng was not, the pregnancy forced her to turn down a Fulbright Scholarship. Instead, she spent the year in Rome, where her daughter was born, while studying with structural engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi. 

Drawing from her personal experiences, Tyng wrote "From Muse to Heroine: Toward a Visible Creative Identity" (1988) a study of the development of female creative roles within architecture from an introverted muse to an extroverted heroine. In 1976, Tyng was one of only three women from the United States selected to participate in the First International Congress of Women Architects held in Ramsar, Iran. Her work has been featured in a number of exhibitions including The Divine Proportion in the Platonic Solids (1964), Women in the Design of the Environment (1974), Two on Two at the Octagon (1979), Visionary Drawings of Architecture and Planning, 1900 through the 1960's (1979-82) and That Exceptional One: Women in American Architecture 1888-1988 (1988). In 2011, 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 entitled, Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry. Tyng was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and an academician of the National Academy of Design in 1975. Tyng at the University of Pennsylvania from 1968 to 1995. Her courses were an extension of her writing and research focusing on geometric order and human scale in architecture.


"Anne Tyng, Theorist of Architecture, Dies at 91," The New York Times, January 7, 2012.

Anne Griswold Tyng entry, Philadelphia Architecs and Buildings, accessed July 14, 2020.



Anne Tyng's Sites