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Review> Romancing the Platonic
Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry at The Graham Foundation through June 18.
View of Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry,, 2011, Graham Foundation, Chicago. Octahedron with nested cube, 2010.
James Prinz

Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry
The Graham Foundation
4 West Burton Place, Chicago
Through June 18

Anne Tyng’s infectious enthusiasm for pure geometric shapes and the hope of their generative powers for urban planning and architectural form is almost as interesting as the juicy subplot of her lifelong office love affair with Louis Kahn. Both stories are on display at a new show at the Graham Foundation in Chicago. Mounted in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives, the exhibit features some fascinating studies of geometric shapes, along with a rich, gossipy hook for architecture junkies—Anne Tyng’s professional associations read like a who’s who in early modernist architecture. As one of the first women to attend the Design School at Harvard, she has been called “Kahn’s geometrical strategist.” Her long career working for Kahn—and her romantic attachment with the architect—began after her graduation when she returned home to the Philadelphia area.

ICA has blown up and built at human scale Tyng’s models of the five Platonic solids so that visitors may actually step inside them. Whether or not you are a Fibonacci fan, to be inside the pure forms of a tetrahedron, dodecahedron, or icosahedron is to somehow experience both the ancient and the new. Nearby, an illustration from Plato’s Timaeus depicting the five Platonic solids (which Plato attributes to the major elements of the earth) is on display.

Small-scale models of the shapes that Tyng was constantly playing with, appropriately labeled “Tyng Toys” are juxtaposed with Buckminster Fuller’s letter of support for her Graham Foundation Scholarship application. Fuller describes his train rides up to New Haven with Kahn and touches upon the boundaries and overlaps of their simultaneous investigations with geometry.

Architects who have spent hours getting their lead holder point just right will appreciate the series of exquisitely hand-drafted graphite drawings of sectionally-cut tetrahedral shapes and triangles on mylar. These same triangles are also drafted at various scales in brilliant colors and hang next to a table displaying models of their architectural adaptations. Triangles in three-dimensional architectural form define the Walworth-Tyng residence, which Tyng designed for her parents on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tyng also applies the triangulated space frame geometry to a high tower structure, the unbuilt City Tower Project, as her work visibly matures in Kahn’s office.

An elegant photograph mounted on the wall of two interlocking nautilus shells encapsulates Tyng’s life-long investigation into and romance with geometry.

Julie Schaffer


Julie Schaffer is a principal at Salles Schaffer Architecture.


Editor's Note: This review was originally written about an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.