Tyng in Trenton.

January 9, 2012

Anne Tyng’s ideas about geometry helped shape Louis Kahn’s  iconic Trenton Bath House.

I was reading the obits for architect Anne Tyng, who just died at the age of 91.  She was a theorist who is best known for having worked closely with the architect Louis Kahn, the father of her daughter,  Alexandra.

I read this paragraph in the New York Times obit:

Kahn broke with Oscar Stonorov in 1947, but 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. Buckminster Fuller, the architect and futurist, once called her “Kahn’s geometrical strategist.”

It me think about my visit to the newly restored Trenton Bath House in the summer of 2010,  how moved I was by the elemental geometry of the place, and especially by the way the sunlight  poured through the square hole in the center of each simple structure’s wooden roof.  The design was clearly the work of a geometrical strategist, but I’d assumed that strategist was Kahn.

Maybe it was, but he had help.  Inga Saffron framed it this way in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

During a 15-year relationship that was both professional and romantic, she helped him produce his pathbreaking early buildings, including the Trenton Bathhouse and the Yale Art Gallery. Yet until recently, she received little credit for those iconic projects.

“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.”

Most architecture is collaborative in nature and it’s rare that underlings are properly credited for their contributions.  But the story of Anne Tyng, her relationship with Kahn, and her unacknowledged influence on his work is particularly poignant.  I’m sorry I had to wait until her death to read it.