gb Marion Mahony, Wright’s right-hand woman, part 18

Marion Mahony, the architect who together with Walter Griffin designed Canberra.

This translation from Spanish (original text) to English is not professional. I have done it with Google, so there will be linguistic errors that I ask you to know how to hide. Many times I have been asked to read my texts in English, and that is why I decided to do it. In addition to your patience, if you see something that I can correct, and wish to notify me of it, I will be happy to do so. In the meantime, with its lights and shadows, here are the lines that I have written. Hugo Kliczkowski Juritz

Marion Mahony (1871 – 1961) was the first woman to practice as an architect in Illinois, she trained at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), she was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most loyal collaborators and the designer who, together with her husband Walter Burley Griffin, planned the new capital of Australia, Canberra, until its golden years in the mid-twentieth century. (1)

Famous for her love-hate relationship with Wright, she was, however, the woman who drew the characteristic drawings of his buildings and projects.

The lithographs of the Wasmuth portfolio (1910), which made Wright so famous, were designed and made by Marion. His delicate watercolors, influenced by Japanese painting, are one of his greatest legacies.

Mahony was born in Chicago, after the terrible fire that destroyed the city, his family had to move to the countryside. It was the so-called Great Rebuilding of the city by architects such as Louis Sullivan who encouraged him to study that profession.

Her father, a journalist of Irish origin, died when Marion was a child. She inherited the character of her mother, a member of the Chicago Women’s Club, was a school principal and a strong fighter for women’s rights.

She was the second woman to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first to practice as an architect.

After a year-long trip to Europe, he returned to work with Dwigh Heald Perkins (1867–1941), his mother’s cousin.

Perkins shared the studio with Wright, who hired her, with Marion being her first employee. Together they explored and performed Prairie Style throughout Illinois. Marion drew them and made the sketches that we all know.

I had with Wright some confrontations, due to the competition that the character of both produced. Barry Byrne, a member of the studio, said that «When they were together there were sprakles»… «When Marion showed up you knew it was going to be a fun day.»

Marion was close friends with Catherine, Kitty, Wright’s wife.

Catherine Wright, Frank’s wife, is seated in front of the camera, while Marion Mahony is in profile, in Oak Park, Illinois, ca. 1895 and 1897. (Photo by Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust/Getty Images)

They worked together for 15 years, accompanying him in 1895 when Wright created his studio in Oak Park, where Marion was one of the main designers being responsible for many of the furniture, murals, stained glass, light fixtures and the design of the mosaics of the houses that were projected.

He created the image of the drawings in the studio, which identify Wright’s early period.

The composition and technique were influenced by Japanese prints.

When Wright left (fleeing) to Europe with Mamah he proposed to Marion that she take charge of the study and the works that were in progress, Marion did not accept.

She was highly critical of Wright’s neglect of Kitty and commented critically that «Wright created very little, he spent his time claiming things for himself and sweeping away others».

Then Wright proposed him to his associate at Steinway Hall, Herman Von Holst (1874 – 1955) to take the work, Holst needed someone with clear design concepts, he needed Marion, he and Wright knew it, so he proposed to work with him, Marion accepted, taking charge of finishing the work in progress.

There is enough documented information, it is possible to discover his hand and his name on the stamps in drawings and plans.

Steinway Hall

Steinway Hall was an 11-story building designed by Dwight Heald Perkins (1867-1941) and opened in 1896. 

Like this theatre/offices, many others were built around the world by the manufacturing company Steinway & Sons, where they exhibited their prestigious pianos.

From the winter of 1896-97, the 11th floor of the building housed the offices of a group of architects.

Among them were its author Dwight Heald Perkins, Robert C. Spencer (1864 – 1953), Frank Lloyd Wright and Myron Hubbard Hunt (1868 – 1952).

Frank L. Wright and the «Architects of Steinway Hall: A Study of Collaboration»

Paperback – 20 July 2021. Author: Stuart Cohen

The book «Frank L. Wright and the Architects of Steinway Hall» analyzes the period between Wright’s arrival in Chicago in 1887 (remember that he worked in the studio of Louis H. Sullivan until 1888, then he partnered with Cecil Corwin (1860 – 1941) and they created a studio in the Schiller Building in downtown Chicago in 1893, until the dissolution of the company he moved to the Steinway Hall office in 1897. Wright would maintain an office there until 1908.

It also narrates the brief period in which numerous young and talented architects shared that space, and tries to evaluate how they collaborated on projects and in the creation of an architectural theory that would decisively influence the development of world architecture.  

The office was actually a shared loft that allowed for the creation of shared ideas, similar designs and above all a «circle of creative architects», many of them friends, who elaborated the theories that would guide their designs.

Active architects of Chicago Architectural Steinway Hall converged there, such as Webster Tomlinson, Irving Pond (1857 – 1939) and Allen Bartlitt Pond (1858 – 1929), Adamo Boari (1863 – 1928), Walter Burley Griffin (1876 – 1937) and Birch Long (1876 – 1937).

“The Eighteen”

Wright would call «The Eighteen» that group of architects who met to eat and discuss common issues. Above all, debates about the art and history of architecture, that, guided by a theory, architecture could be created by teams, and not isolated facts of loose geniuses.

The group was joined by other architects who did not work on the building such as Arthur Dean and George Robinson Dean (1864 – 1919), Hugh Garden (1873 – 1961), Arthur Heun, Alfred Hoyt Granger (1867 – 1939), Richard Ernest Schmidt (1865 – 1958) who years later would work for Howard Van Doren Shaw, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869 – 1926).

Architects who flourished after the great fire of 1871 in Chicago and the «World’s Columbian Exposition» fair held in 1893.

Architects close to the term «Prairie School», a term coined by the Canadian historian H. Allen Brooks (1925 – 2010), responsible for the 32-volume edition of the monumental The Le Corbusier Archive.

The directories studied indicate that from 1897 to 1910, up to fifty different architects rented space in the building.

The so-called Chicago School included names such as Barry Byrne (1883 – 1967), William E. Drummond (1876 – 1948), George G. Elmslie (1869 – 1952), Hugh Garden, Marion Mahony Griffin, Birch Burdette Long, George W. Maher (1864 – 1926), George C. Nimmons (1865 – 1947), William Purcell, Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869 – 1926), and Robert C. J. R. Spence (1864 – 1953).

«… The meadow has a beauty of its own and we should recognize it by accentuating this natural beauty, its calm level… Planes parallel to the earth make the building belong to the land. I see the very line of the horizon as the authentic line of human life, indicative of freedom… The horizontal line is the line of the domestic«. Frank Lloyd Wright 1910/11.

Wright contemplates working in his Hillside studio in Taliesin, circa 1940 (photo by Marvin Koner of Getty Images)

In Wright’s studio, Marion had met her husband in 1911.

Walter Burley Griffin, who was five years younger than Marion.

While a collaborator with Wright, the two had a bad and difficult relationship, so Griffin left the studio in 1906.

Griffin had an excellent character, his friends said that he could put out the fire that emanated from Marion, the couple formed a studio, which had a lot of work, between 1899 and 1914, the Chicago studio created more than 130 designs between buildings, urban plans and landscaping. Half of them were built in the states of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In 1912 they entered together in the competition for the planning of the city of Canberra, the new capital of Australia. With Griffin’s enormous experience and Marion’s incomparable prints, they won it and moved to that part of the world in 1914.

History has not been fair when it comes to recognizing (as it did so many professionals) his real participation in the project.

After winning the Canberra contest, and the cover lavished on them by the prestigious newspaper The New York Times, Wright and Griffin did not speak to each other again, Wright referred to him as a cartoonist. Wright «was ungenerous in lavishing himself on the merits of others.»

Walter Griffin y Marion Mahony en Castlecrag, Sydney en julio de 1930

Marion decides to dedicate herself in life and soul to making her husband Griffin a great architect. In her memoirs she writes «I became his useful slave (…), I lost myself in him and that seemed very satisfying to me».

Although only a small part of the plan was realized, they decided to stay, the book «Marion Mahony Griffin: Drawing the form of Nature», is the result of her botanical drawings and illustrations in Tanzania.

They settled in New South Wales, building the residential neighbourhood of Castlecrag, Marion directed and designed the scenery for the local theatre.

«Marion Mahony Reconsidered» by David Van Zanten (1943).

It was published by The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226850818. 192 pp, 69 illustrations (65 in B/W).

The book sheds light on many personal and professional aspects of Marion, who has finally begun to receive the recognition she deserves for her contributions to the field of early twentieth-century architecture. She did not have it easy, marginalized by the enormous shadow of Wright and her husband Walter Burley Friffin.

It shows us Marion’s personal journey from the suburbs of Chicago to Wright’s right-hand woman and her bohemian life with her husband in Australia, defines her as a «talented, complex and enigmatic» modern architect.

Mahony approaches the relationship with Wright with sadness «He created very little, spent his time claiming things for himself and leaving others aside.»

Largely recognized for her exquisite presentation drawings for both Wright and her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, she was a designer whose independent and highly original work attracted attention at a time when architectural drawing and graphic illustration were becoming integral to the design process.

The book examines new research on Mahony’s life and paints a vivid portrait of the place of a woman who stands out among the most renowned American architects.

The included essays cover Mahony’s origins in the suburbs of Chicago, through her years as Wright’s right-hand man and her bohemian life with her husband in Australia, whose new capital, Canberra, she helped plan until her golden years in the mid-twentieth century.

Filled with richly detailed analyses of Mahony’s works and including and populated by an international cast of characters, «Marion Mahony Reconsidered» greatly expands our knowledge of this talented, complex, and enigmatic modern architect.

Although the Griffin Mahony are not as well known in the rest of the world, they are an institution in Australia, where they are revered.

Its nucleus was a cultured circle, made up of many progressive professionals.

His cousin, the architect Dwight Herald Perkins, author among other buildings of the Steinway Hall, who details in this article, the sum as a draftsman in his studio.

This studio was on the 11th floor of Steinway Hall, where Wright works.

In 1985 he began working in Oak Park, in Wright’s studio, that relationship lasted 14 years.

After her marriage, Mahony went to work at Griffin’s law firm. A multi-home development designed by Griffin and Mahony, Rock Crest – Rock Glen in Mason City, Iowa, is seen as their most spectacular American design development of the decade and remains the largest collection of prairirie-style homes surrounding a natural setting.

Returning to his intense and interesting life

Without a doubt, Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961) should appear with her own name in modern urban history. However, this has not been the case. It was not until the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Canberra project competition that her name appeared on an equal footing with her husband’s. In 2013, Marion Mahony Griffin’s co-authorship of the city’s project was recognised in the exhibition The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s Capital.

The second woman to graduate as an architect from MIT in 1894, she belonged to a social environment of a wide and diverse circle of progressive women and men (labor reformers, voters, civic activists, and high-society women’s clubs), which facilitated her entry into the world of work. In 1902 he received his first commission stemming from these relationships, the Reverend James Blake Vila, a Unitarian reformer, poet and playwright, commissioned him to design the new All Saints Church in Evanston.

Marion Mahony began her professional practice, as a cartoonist, in the studio of her cousin Dwight Perkins. This kinship relationship was important, since, for many women, even if they had studied, professional practice was inaccessible since the incorporation of women was not well received.

In 1895 he began working in Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Oak Park, and for 14 years he was one of the most important people in it. So much so that when Wright left for Japan, in 1909, he offered her to be the one to take charge of the studio. She declined the proposal, but agreed to work in the studio of Herman von Holst, who continued the studio’s works. and it was Marion who took charge of finishing the work that had been started, as stated in the stamps of the drawings and plans.

At Oak Park, Marion Mahony was one of the main designers, being responsible for many of the furniture, murals, stained glass, lighting and mosaics of the houses that were projected. He created the image of the studio’s drawings, which were instrumental in the identification and uniqueness of the first Wright.

The style of his drawings was influenced by Japanese prints both in composition and technique. (2)

In Wright’s studio she met her future husband, Walter Burley Griffin. Together they formed their studio and in 1911 they entered the competition for the new capital of Australia, Canberra.

Marion Mahony and her husband Walter Burley Griffin in Canberrra

In 1914 they moved to Australia to develop the project, history has forgotten the name of Marion Mahony when the project of this city is mentioned. The drawings undoubtedly bore his stamp and it can be said that his participation in the project was extremely important. But as has happened with many wives of architects, she decided to step aside so that the figure of the husband could stand out, in that way (and they were not wrong), they avoided social and professional reluctance to recognize the good work of professional women.

in which the creativity of humanity and the non-destruction of nature are sought.

In 1937 Walter Griffin died in India. She continued to work, and upon her return to the United States she developed three unrealized urban projects, the World Fellowship Center in Conway in 1942 commissioned by Lola M. Lloyd (1875 – 1944) (Co-founder with Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom).

The second commission, in 1943, was the village of Rosary Cristals, near Burne, also owned by Lola Lloyd, and was related to Marion Mahony’s interest in single taxes and the anthroposophical vision. And a final urban project for the South Side of Chicago in 1947. All of them recognize his concern and interest in environmental design and his ability to solve human design problems both in detail and on a large scale. (3)

“… the book has one main purpose, to correct Marion’s absence from history by raising new questions, focusing on achievements that cannot be denied and beginning to fill some of the gaps and absences in her story… it is an academic achievement for the history of architecture…». Jane Clarke, historian.

“… An architect and graphic artist extraordinaire, Marion Mahony was a force of nature… marginalized as an «assistant» or «talented draftsman» for Wright and for Griffin… it is not possible to amplify her achievements by diminishing those of her husband… Perhaps it’s a dangerous book for those who believe that Wright invented everything that emanated from his Oak Park studio… It was undoubtedly part of the genesis of modern architecture in the United States.» Christopher Vernon, University of Western Australia.

Return to Chicago and the end

In 1937, while building a university library in Lucknow, India, Walter died of peritonitis. Mahony returned, first to Australia, but finally, in 1939, to Chicago, where she spent her last 24 years at her sister’s house, a school principal. She never wanted to talk about herself or her work as an architect, but about her husband.

He did draw a beautiful mural at his sister’s school, the George Armstrong Elementary School in the city, and became interested in the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner (the one of Waldorf education), to which he dedicated a good part of his last decades. (4)

Murió demente, no sin antes dejar escrita su biografía en un libro que se puede consultar online en el Art Institute of Chicago: The magic of America.



By Itziar Narro. July 12, 2020. AD


Dr. Arq. Zaida Muxí, One day an architect. March 25, 2015


Archdaily. Marion Mahony Griffin: an architecture in tune with nature and the creativity of humanity.


In the early twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy. His teachings are influenced by Christian Gnosticism, Many of his ideas are pseudoscientific, he was also a supporter of pseudohistory.

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