Marion Mahony Griffin (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. Her work in the United States developed and expanded the American Prairie School. Her work in India and Australia reflected Prairie School ideals of indigenous landscape and materials in the newly formed democracies. The scholar Deborah Wood has stated that Griffin "did the drawings people think when they think Frank Lloyd Wright (one of her collaborating architects)." During her career, she produced some of the best architectural drawing in America and was instrumental in envisioning the design plans for then new capital city of Australia, Canberra.
|Marion Mahony Griffin|
Mahony Griffin in Sydney, 1930
14 February 1871
|Died||August 10, 1961 (aged 90)|
|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Known for||Prairie School|
|Spouse(s)||Walter Burley Griffin (m. 1911)|
Marion Mahony was born in 1871 in Chicago, Illinois, the second child and eldest daughter of the five surviving children of Jeremiah Mahony, a journalist, poet, and educator from Cork, Ireland, and Clara Hamilton, a schoolteacher. Comically, Marion's father "had the reputation of being a better teacher drunk than most teachers sober" while her mother can only be noted as being the daughter of a respected doctor from New Hampshire.
Marion's 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 raging 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. 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.
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 Bartlitt 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. 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 would be 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. Architectural writer Reyner Banham called her the "greatest architectural delineator of her generation". Her rendering of the K. C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana, was praised by Wright upon its completion and by many critics.
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. During this time Mahony designed the Gerald Mahony Residence (1907) in Elkhart, Indiana for her brother and sister-in-law.
When Wright eloped to Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney in 1909, he offered the Studio's work to Mahony. She declined. But 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 design. 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 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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; afterwards, 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 28 years. Marion's watercolor perspectives of Walter's 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. Marion managed the Sydney office and was responsible for the design of their private commissions. In Australia, Marion and Walter were introduced to Anthroposophy and the ideas of Rudolf Steiner which they embraced enthusiastically, and in Sydney they joined the Anthroposophy Society. In Australia, they pioneered the Knitlock construction method, inexactly emulated by Wright in his California textile block houses of the 1920s.
Later the Griffins practiced in India and, in less than a year, Mahony oversaw the design of over one hundred Prairie School influenced buildings there. Walter Griffin died in India in 1937 of peritonitis following a cholecystectomy. Mahony then completed their work 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.
Marion Mahony Griffin died in Chicago, aged 90. She was in her late 60's when 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."
She is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Irving Park Road and Clark Street, Chicago, with other noted architects: David Adler, Louis Sullivan, Daniel H. Burnham, Bruce Goff, William Holabird, Howard Van Doren Shaw and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
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 Counsel General, Roger Price, attended the beach's dedication for the woman who was instrumental in the design the Australian capital.
In the United States there are a few surviving works attributed to Mahoney. There is a small mural in George B. Armstrong elementary school in Chicago attributed to Mahoney, and several homes in Decatur.