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Art, Math, Cosmology

We’re upstairs in ICA’s second-floor gallery and Ingrid says, “You know how in architect’s models they always have these tiny plastic people? Well we are the tiny people in this model of Anne Tyng’s new project.”
Miranda: Tyng urban heirarchy 2

URBAN HIERARCHY (1969-71; unbuilt), model. Courtesy of the Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, by the gift of Anne G. Tyng

ICA’s new exhibition, Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry, opened last month, and it looks magnificent. I’ve written before about the huge plywood helixes the architect designed for the show, how they circle gracefully down from the high ceiling, and about the enormous shapes—tetrahedron, cube, dodecahedron—big enough to stand in. But I hadn’t quite made the leap Ingrid is making: that the whole installation is an architect’s model that has tasted the right side of the mushroom.

This is the docent walkthrough, the time when the people who will give tours to the public get the ur-tour from the curators. ICA’s Senior Curator, Ingrid Schaffner, organized the Anne Tyng exhibition, along with consulting curator and architect Srdjan Weiss—who translated Tyng’s extensive diagrams and exacting calculations into these fine built forms we’re standing in the midst of—and William Whitaker, the curator of Penn’s architectural archives which collaborated with ICA on the project and lent the drawings, models, letters, and plans. (It seems like there should be a joke in here: how many curators does it take to change a light bulb? But I don’t know what the punch line is.) Ingrid knows what she’d like the docents to emphasize, and sometimes what she’d like them to leave out, and this is the moment for her to make her pitch. You can see her delight in how well the installation turned out as she points out the shadows the helixes cast on the walls: “I like to encourage people to look at these things as a sculpture in the space,” she says.
Miranda: Tyng models with people

Photo: J. Katz

Ingrid points out the two C-shaped tables on which the models of Tyng’s projects sit, explaining that these are bigger versions of Tyng’s actual desk (putting them into the show was Srdjan’s idea). She takes us through the models: the Buck’s county elementary school, the four-poster house, the famous City Tower project, saying, “She’s thinking in the most literal way about how architecture fits into the cosmos.” Then she shows us the drawings of the house Tyng designed for her parents in Eastern Maryland, a house that survived many a hurricane before fire finally took it. The structure—the space frame—is radical, but the expression is vernacular, so the house fits in with the local cottages and barns. “I think it’s important to point visitors to the drawing,” Ingrid says. “It’s a kind of incredible minimalist drawing, and it’s also an engineering drawing.” As architecture itself is half art, half math. Or maybe in Tyng’s case, a third each art, math, and cosmology.

“I think, in all the years I’ve been at ICA, this is the best use of the space,” one of the docents says, looking up into the open spiraling helix. We all nod, converts to the religion of geometry.