Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The Tetrahedron and the Prism

Clever House (1962) by Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng. Photo by Chris Mottalini.

For Issue 04 of August Journal, I had the opportunity to write about two houses by Louis Kahn, one designed at the beginning of his career and one at the end, one in New Jersey and one just over the border in Pennsylvania. It was delightful to interview their current loving owners. The whole issue is devoted to architecture in New Jersey, and includes work by Thomas Edison, Michael Graves and Eero Saarinen, much of it photographed by Chris Mottalini.

August is a beautiful print publication, edited by my friend Dung Ngo, so the article is not online. Here’s how it begins:

Louis Kahn’s career was relatively short, his mature architectural output sandwiched between 1953 and his death in 1974. But at either end, a masterpiece.

Among the first buildings he completed that we recognize as KAHN was the Trenton Bathhouse, finished in 1957. Four pyramidal roofs touch down atop four solid concrete-block pavilions, one to enter the complex, two for his and hers changing rooms, one to exit to the pool. The open square between the roofs becomes the center not by architecture but default: a community space marked by a square of daylight. The dark roofs serve as beacons in profile, calling visitors in flip flops and bathing suits across the field, while the true entrance is a modest break in the wall, marked by one of Kahn’s abstract murals.

More recent scholarship has revealed we have architect Anne Tyng to thank for those roofs, as well as the play of shelter and light. Tyng, who was one of the first women admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, worked with Kahn from 1945 to 1964. Inside and outside his office, her research and her designs focused on elemental geometry and, often, the space-frame. It was she who brought the triangle to Kahn, topping his earth-planted columns, cylinders and squares with pyramids and tetrahedrons that direct the eye up to the sky. When the Clevers thought of adding another room to their Kahn-designed house in 1972, they went straight to Tyng.