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Marion Mahony Griffin

Marion Mahony Griffin
Close up view of Mahony Griffin facing to the side with her hands on a tree.
Mahony Griffin in Sydney, 1930
Marion Lucy Mahony[1]

(1871-02-14)February 14, 1871
DiedAugust 10, 1961(1961-08-10) (aged 90)
Chicago, Illinois
Burial placeGraceland Cemetery
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Occupation(s)Architect; artist
Years active1890s–1950s
Known forPrairie School
SpouseWalter Burley Griffin (m. 1911)
Watercolor from the Canberra Design
Artist's Studio (Section). Watercolor and ink by Marion Griffin 1894
Design for Suburban Residence Exhibit plan 2
Design for Suburban Residence Exhibit Plan 1

Marion Mahony Griffin (née Marion Lucy Mahony; February 14, 1871 – August 10, 1961) was an American architect and artist. She was one of the first licensed female architects in the world, and is considered an original member of the Prairie School.[2] Her work in the United States developed and expanded the American Prairie School, and her work in India and Australia reflected Prairie School ideals of indigenous landscape and materials in the newly formed democracies. The scholar Debora Wood stated that Griffin "did the drawings people think of when they think of Frank Lloyd Wright (one of her collaborating architects)."[3] According to architecture critic, Reyner Banham, Griffin was "America’s (and perhaps the world’s) first woman architect who needed no apology in a world of men."[4]

She produced some of the finest architectural drawing in America and Australia, and was instrumental in envisioning the design plans for the capital city of Australia, Canberra.[5][6][7][8]

Early life and education

Mahony was born in 1871 in Chicago, Illinois, to Jeremiah Mahony, a journalist, poet, and teacher from Cork, Ireland, and Clara Hamilton, a schoolteacher.[9]

Her family moved to nearby Winnetka in 1880 after the Great Chicago Fire. In her memoir, Mahoney vividly describes her mother carrying her as an infant in a clothes basket, as they escape from the fire. Growing up in Winnetka, she became fascinated by the quickly disappearing landscape as suburban homes filled the area. She was influenced by her first cousin, architect Dwight Perkins, and decided to further her education. She graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in 1894. She was the second woman to do so, after Sophia Hayden, the designer of the Woman's building at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.[10] Though highly talented, she sometimes struggled with her place in both society and the field. She was unsure of her ability to complete the thesis required for her bachelor's degree, but her professor, Constant-Désiré Despradelle, pushed her forward.[11]

Architectural career

Work with Frank Lloyd Wright

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After graduation, Mahony returned to Chicago, where she became the first woman to be licensed to practice architecture in Illinois. She worked in her cousin's architecture firm, which was located in Steinway Hall at 64 E. Van Buren in downtown Chicago. The space was shared with many other architects, including Robert C. Spencer, Myron Hunt, Webster Tomlinson, Irving Pond and Allen Bartlett Pond, Adamo Boari, Birch Long and Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1895, Mahony, the first employee hired by Frank Lloyd Wright, went to work designing buildings, furniture, stained glass windows, and decorative panels.[12] Her beautiful watercolor renderings of buildings and landscapes became known as a staple of Wright's style, though she was never given credit by the famous architect. Over a century later she would be known as one of the greatest delineators of the architecture field, but during her life, her talent was seen as only an extension of the work done by male architects. She was associated with Wright's studio for almost fifteen years and was an important contributor to his reputation, particularly for the influential Wasmuth Portfolio, for which Mahony created more than half of the numerous renderings. [citation needed] Architectural writer Reyner Banham called her the "greatest architectural delineator of her generation."[13] Her rendering of the K. C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana, was praised by Wright upon its completion and by many critics.[14]

Wright understated the contributions of others of the Prairie School, Mahony included. A clear understanding of Marion Mahony's contribution to the architecture of the Oak Park Studio comes from Wright's son, John Lloyd Wright, who says that William Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, Walter Burley Griffin, Albert Chase McArthur, Marion Mahony, Isabel Roberts and George Willis were the draftsmen—the five men and two women who each made valuable contributions to Prairie-style architecture for which Wright became famous.[15] During this time Mahony designed the Gerald Mahony Residence (1907) in Elkhart, Indiana for her brother and sister-in-law.[16]

One story house with gabled roofs, wide overhangs, and leaded glass windows..
David M. Amberg House, 2009

When Wright eloped to Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney in 1909, he offered the Studio's work to Mahony but she declined. After Wright had gone, Hermann V. von Holst, who had taken on Wright's commissions, hired Mahony with the stipulation that she would have control of the design.[17] In this capacity, Mahony was the architect for a number of commissions Wright had abandoned. Two examples were the first (unbuilt) design for Henry Ford's Dearborn mansion, Fair Lane and the Amberg House[18] in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Work with Walter Burley Griffin

Marion Mahony Griffin on the left with a watering can and Walter Burley Griffin with a shovel in front of a small building
Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin gardening in the backyard of "Pholiota", Heidelberg, Victoria, 1918

Mahony recommended Walter Burley Griffin to von Holst to develop landscaping for the area surrounding the three houses commissioned from Wright in Decatur, Illinois. Griffin was a fellow architect, a fellow ex-employee of Wright, and a leading member of the Prairie School of architecture. Mahony and Griffin worked on the Decatur project before their marriage; afterward, Mahony worked in Griffin's practice. A Walter Burley Griffin/Marion Mahony designed development that is home to an outstanding collection of Prairie School dwellings, Rock Crest – Rock Glen in Mason City, Iowa, is seen as their most dramatic American design development of the decade. It is the largest collection of Prairie Style homes surrounding a natural setting.

Mahony and Griffin married in 1911, a partnership that lasted 26 years. Mahony's watercolor perspectives of Griffins' design for Canberra, the new Australian capital, were instrumental in securing first prize in the international competition for the plan of the city. In 1914 the couple moved to Australia to oversee the building of Canberra. Mahony managed the Sydney office and was responsible for the design of their private commissions.[19] In Australia, Mahony and Griffin was introduced to Anthroposophy and the ideas of Rudolf Steiner which they embraced enthusiastically, and in Sydney they joined the Anthroposophy Society.[6] In Australia, they pioneered the Knitlock construction method, inexactly emulated by Wright in his California textile block houses of the 1920s.

Walter was asked to create a design for a library for the University of Lucknow in India, and went to the college in September 1935, and soon gained several other commissions. Marion arrived in April 1936, and soon took charge of the office, where she oversaw the design of many buildings.[20] Less than a year later, in Feb 1937. Walter died of peritonitis following a cholecystectomy. Mahony then wound up the office, leaving many projects unbuilt, and returned to Australia. Mahony and Griffin spread the Prairie Style to two continents, far from its origins. She credited Louis Sullivan as the impetus for the Prairie School philosophy. She thought Wright's habit of taking credit for the movement explained its early death in the United States.[21]

Death and legacy

Griffin's grave at Graceland Cemetery

Marion Mahony Griffin did not stay long in Australia after Walter's death. By then in her late 60s, she returned to the United States and afterward was largely retired from her architectural career. "The one time she addressed the Illinois Society of Architects, she made no mention of her work, instead lectured the crowd on anthroposophy, a philosophy of spiritual knowledge developed by Rudolf Steiner."[22]

She did however spend the next twenty years working on a massive volume of 1,400 pages and 650 illustrations detailing her and Walter's working lives, which she titled "The Magic of America", which has yet to be formally published in book form. A manuscript deposited at the Art Institute of Chicago in c1949 was digitized, and since 2007 has been available online.[23] In 2006 the National Library of Australia acquired a large collection of the Griffins' work including drawings, photographs, silk paintings and ephemera from the descendants of the Griffins’ Australian partner Eric Milton Nicholls.[24][25][26]

Marion Mahony Griffin died in 1961 aged 90, and is buried in Graceland Cemetery.

In 2015, the beach at Jarvis Avenue in Rogers Park, Chicago was named in Mahony Griffin's honor. When she returned to the United States in 1939, after her husband's death, she lived near the beach. The Australian Consul-General, Roger Price, attended the beach's dedication for the woman who was instrumental in the design the Australian capital.[27]

Among the few works attributed to Mahony that survive in the United States is a small mural in George B. Armstrong elementary school in Chicago attributed to Mahony, and several homes in Decatur.

Aside from her architectural fame, she also explored poetry with themes related to the relationship between nature and architecture, the impact of the built environment on individuals, and her reflections on the role of women in the society of her time. Her poetry showcased her deep appreciation for art and her unique perspective on the world.

The Australian Institute of Architects, NSW Chapter, honored her work with an annual award, the Marion Mahony Griffin Prize, for a distinctive body of work by a female architect for architectural education, journalism, research, theory, a professional practice or built architectural work.[28]


1998–99: The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney held an exhibition entitled "Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin".[29]

2013: An exhibition to celebrate the centenary of Canberra, held in the National Library of Australia and called "The Dream of a Century: the Griffins in Australia’s Capital", exhibited her drawings for the entire year.[26][30]

2015: An exhibition of some of her work was held at the Block Museum of Northwestern University, Illinois, USA.

2016–17: An exhibition was held at the Elmhurst History Museum, Illinois, USA.[31][32]

2020–2021: An exhibition at the Museum of Sydney entitled "Paradise on Earth".[33][30][34]

2022: An exhibition at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra entitled "Marion: the other Griffin".[35]

Architectural works


  1. ^ "Mahony Griffin, Marion Lucy (1871–1961)". The Australian Women's Register. Retrieved March 31, 2022.
  2. ^ Allaback, Sarah (2008). The First American Women Architects. Illinois, USA: Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-252-03321-6.
  3. ^ Bernstein, Fred A. (2008). "Marion Mahony Griffin – Architecture". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  4. ^ Birmingham, Elizabeth (2018). "Pioneering Women of American Architecture". Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. Retrieved July 10, 2023.
  5. ^ Korporaal, Glenda (October 16, 2015). "Making Magic – The Marion Mahony Griffin story". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Paull, John (2012) Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, Architects of Anthroposophy, Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania, 106 (Winter), pp. 20–30.
  7. ^ Hines, Thomas (March 1995). "Drafting a Role for Women in Architecture". Architectural Digest. 52 (1): 28–40.
  8. ^ Nowroozi, Isaac (February 20, 2021). "Celebrating Marion Mahony Griffin, the woman who helped shape Canberra". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  9. ^ Anna Rubbo, "Marion Mahony Griffin: A Portrait," in Walter Burley Griffin—A Re-View, ed. Jenepher Duncan (Clayton, Victoria, Australia: Monash University Gallery, 1988), 16; James Weirick, "Marion Mahony at M.I.T.," Transition 25, no. 4 (1988): 49.
  10. ^ Hines, Thomas S. (March 1995). "Portrait: Marion Mahony Griffin Drafting a Role for Women in Architecture". Architectural Digest. 52 (1): 28–40.
  11. ^ The American Midwest, by Richard Sisson, Christian K. Zacher, Andrew Robert Lee Cayton, Indiana University Press, 2007, p. 558
  12. ^ Walter Burley Griffin, by Paul Kruty, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  13. ^ Reyner Banham, “Death and Life of the Prairie School,” Architectural Review 154 (August 1973): 101
  14. ^ Frank Lloyd Wright's Right-Hand Woman, by Lynn Becker, 2005
  15. ^ "My Father: Frank Lloyd Wright", by John Lloyd Wright; 1992; p. 35
  16. ^ "Interior view of Gerard Mahony House [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  17. ^ Mahony Griffin, Marion, "The Magic of America"
  18. ^ "David M. Amberg House, 505 College Avenue Southeast, Grand Rapids, Kent County, MI". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  19. ^ "Marion Mahony". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  20. ^ The First American Women Architects, by Sarah Allaback, p. 89
  21. ^ The Magic of America: Electronic Edition online version of Marion Mahony Griffin's unpublished manuscript, made available through The Art Institute of Chicago
  22. ^ Bernstein, Fred (January 2008). "Rediscovering a Heroine of Chicago Architecture". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  23. ^ "The Magic of America: Marion Mahony Griffin". Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  24. ^ "Griffin and early Canberra Collection". National Library of Australia. 2019.
  25. ^ "Guide to the Papers of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony collected by Eric Nicholls". Trove.
  26. ^ a b "The Dream of a Century: the Griffins in Australia's Capital".
  27. ^ Woodard, Ben (May 22, 2015). "Aussie Beach". Edgewater News. A2. news)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  28. ^ "NSW Architecture Awards". Australian Institute of Architects. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  29. ^ "Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin". Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences. 1998.
  30. ^ a b McDonald, John (December 18, 2020). "Architect Marion Mahony Griffin: her positivity confronted pessimism". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  31. ^ Kamin, Blair (October 15, 2016). "Elmhurst exhibit on female architectural pioneer highlights out-of-box ideas". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  32. ^ Mortice, Zach (October 31, 2016). "Marion Mahony Griffin, Unbound". Architectural Record. Retrieved July 9, 2023.
  33. ^ "Marion Mahony Griffin: Architect, Environmentalist, Visionary". Sydney Living Museums. 2020.
  34. ^ "Museum of Sydney celebrates Marion Mahony Griffin's architecture career in the shadows". Australian Design Review. November 11, 2020.
  35. ^ "Marion: the other Griffin". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  36. ^ "Exterior view of Gerald Mahony House [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  37. ^ Heritage Hills Tours website[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ Prairie School website
  39. ^ "The Prairie School Traveler". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  40. ^ "Architecture – Adolph Mueller House". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  41. ^ "The Prairie School Traveler". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  42. ^ "No title available". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  43. ^ "Interior view of Koehne House,Florida, U.S.A. [United States of America, 1] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  44. ^ "Interior view of Koehne House,Florida, U.S.A. [United States of America, 2] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  45. ^ "Exterior view of Koehne House, Florida, U.S.A. [United States of America, 1] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  46. ^ "Exterior view of Cooley residence, Monroe, Louisiana, U.S.A.[United States of America, 2] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  47. ^ "Exterior view of Cooley residence, Monroe, Louisiana, U.S.A.[United States of America,1] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  48. ^ Beyond Architecture, (editors) Marion Mahony Griffin, Anne Watson, Walter Burley Griffin
  49. ^ "[Mr. S.R. Salter's completed Knitlock home at Toorak, Victoria, 1] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  50. ^ "Mr. Vaughan Griffin's segmental house at 52 Darebin Street, Heidelberg, Victoria, ca. 1927, [1] [picture]". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  51. ^ "Victorian Heritage Database". May 13, 1999. Retrieved May 18, 2020.


  • Birmingham, Elizabeth. "The Case of Marion Mahony Griffin and The Gendered Nature of Discourse in Architectural History." Women's Studies 35, no. 2 (March 2006): 87–123.
  • Brooks, H. Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, Braziller (in association with the Cooper-Hewitt Museum), New York 1984; ISBN 0-8076-1084-4
  • Brooks, H. Allen, The Prairie School, W.W. Norton, New York 2006; ISBN 0-393-73191-X
  • Brooks, H. Allen (editor), Prairie School Architecture: Studies from "The Western Architect", University of Toronto Press, Toronto & Buffalo 1975; ISBN 0-8020-2138-7
  • Brooks, H. Allen, The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and his Midwest Contemporaries, University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1972; ISBN 0-8020-5251-7
  • Hasbrouk, Wilbert R. 2012. "Influences on Frank Lloyd Wright, Blanche Ostertag and Marion Mahony." Journal of Illinois History 15, no. 2: 70–88. America: History & Life
  • Korporaal, Glenda and Marion Mahony Griffin (2015) Making Magic: The Marion Mahony Griffin Story ISBN 0-9924769-0-9
  • Kruty, Paul, "Griffin, Marion Lucy Mahony", American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  • Van Zanten, David (editor) Marion Mahony Reconsidered, University of Chicago Press, 2011; ISBN 978-0-226-85081-8
  • Waldheim, Charles, Katerina Rüedi, Katerina Ruedi Ray; Chicago Architecture: Histories, Revisions, Alternatives, University of Chicago Press, 2005; ISBN 0-226-87038-3, ISBN 978-0-226-87038-0
  • Wood, Debora (editor), Marion Mahony Griffin: Drawing the Form of Nature, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois 2005; ISBN 0-8101-2357-6
  • Kruty, Paul., and Paul E. Sprague. Marion Mahony and Millikin Place: Creating a Prairie School Masterpiece With the Help of Frank Lloyd Wright, Herman Von Holst, and Walter Burley Griffin. St. Louis, Mo.: Walter Burley Griffin Society of America, 2007.

External links and additional readings

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Marion Mahony Griffin
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