Geometric Extensions of Consciousness, Anne Tyng

An architect and professor at the University of Pennsylvania for 27 years, Anne Tyng is known for her influence in geometric studies and mathematics in design, largely in part through her collaborations with Louis Kahn that spanned over 29 years — most notably on the Philadelphia City Tower proposal. Though Tyng’s interest and command of geometric forms were evident from the early years of her career from the Tyng Toy (1947) to the Tyng House (1967), her essay “Geometric Extensions of Consciousness” in the Italian architectural journal Zodiac concretized the idea that geometry held relevance in architecture beyond a formal generation exercise.

Left: Tyng Toy (1947), Right: Tyng House Addition (1967)

Central to this distinction was the idea that “inhabitation” was the mode through which one recognizes priorities in architecture, and that these human-occupational and -interventional aspects of form could be expressed in equation and number. Tyng attributes the origins of the form of human perception as shaped by the tensions between the individual and collective, between consciousness and unconsciousness. Proposing that the local relationships of the individual body, particularly of left and right handedness, were the first realizations of human spatiality, Tyng illustrates the process through which human actions, in their quantifiable depths and dimensions, extended spatial awareness and perception. In concluding that these incremental realizations are analogical to geometric form, Tyng attributes rotational tension as descriptive of the progress from the individual to collective, and vertical, helical tensions as related to the progress from past to present (Tyng, 131).

Left: Rotation in the higher solids, Right: Helical extension of rotation

This method of progression, a “precise and extremely flexible means of shifting scale” (Tyng, 141), is the basis for her studies in the continuity of all form through their intrinsic, discoverable proportions. In doing so, Tyng studies the five Platonic Solids –tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron — and proportionally relates them through asymmetrical means.

Tyng’s gnomons were complements to the regular base geometries that defined the Platonic Solids, and their essential asymmetry navigated geometric transformations and scales flexibly. Whereas Platonic forms tended to be defined as autonomous and regular, the concept of the gnomon provided the alternative that “[g]eometry, through oscillations from the symmetrical to the asymmetrical, offers […] the key to the processes and the phases of becoming, both organic and of consciousness” (Bottero, 5). The gnomon, then, brings geometry in architecture back to the concept of inhabitation, or the potential for human participation and perception to alter and affect certain givens.


Bottero, Maria. “Introduction,” Zodiac 19. 1969.

Imperiale, Alicia. “Dynamic Symmetries.” Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry. Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia and The Graham Foundation, 2011. 86–91.

Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth. On Growth and Form: The Complete Revised Edition. Dover, New York, 1992. 760.

Tyng, Anne. “Geometric Extensions of Consciousness.” Zodiac 19. 1969.

Weiss, Srdjan Jovanovic. “Inhabitation is Unusual and Important.” Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry. Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia and The Graham Foundation, 2011. 82–85.

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