Marion Mahony


Marion Lucy Mahony was born in 1871 in Chicago, Illinois but her family soon moved to Winnetka to avoid the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire. After finishing high school, she enrolled in the School of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the same school that her cousin, Dwight Heald Perkins, studied at. As a member of the class of 1894, Marion was one of eight women in the freshman class at MIT. She went on to become the second woman to graduate with a degree in architecture from MIT. Marion then returned to Chicago and went to work for Perkins, helping to complete drawings for his Steinway Piano Company commission. It was shortly thereafter that she became the first licensed architect in Illinois. Perkins maintained an office in the attic of the Steinway building which he shared with other members of the Prairie School, and in 1895, when Perkins’ work slowed down, Marion used her association with the other architects to procure a job with Frank Lloyd Wright as his office superintendent.

At the time Wright was planning his Oak Park studio and Marion was responsible for the design of the entrance loggia columns. During this association Marion produced many of the designs for the furniture, art glass windows and interior ornamentation that were integral parts of Wright’s environment. But she is most remembered for her exquisite presentation drawings. Her renderings were instrumental in the promotion of Wright’s works, often appearing at exhibitions and accompanying published articles and portfolios.

When Wright left the Oak Park studio in 1909 he offered Marion control of the practice. She declined the offer but stayed on completing several projects under the direction of Herman Von Holst at his Steinway Hall office. While at Steinway Hall she was reunited with former colleagues, including Walter Burley Griffin. The renewed friendship lead to their marriage in June of 1911.

In October of 1911 Marion and Walter began work on Walter’s submission for a contest to design the new capital city of Canberra, Australia. It was Marion’s perspective renderings of her husbands’ concepts that were the major factor in declaring Walter the winner of the competition. In 1914 they left for Australia to oversee the design and construction of the capital city. Marion managed the Sydney office and was responsible for the design of all of the private commissions that they obtained.

After spending 21 years in Australia Marion followed Walter to Lucknow, India to help him with an abundance of work that he had obtained. In less than a year she oversaw the design of over one hundred Prairie School influenced buildings that were in contrast to the existing British style architecture. When Walter died suddenly in 1937, Marion finished their Indian projects and returned to Chicago.

Back in the United States, Marion at age 66 turned to city planning. She developed plans for new communities in Texas and New Hampshire for her client Lola Maverick Lloyd. Unfortunately her client became ill and died before the plans could be executed. She spent the rest of her life writing her unpublished memoirs and living inconspicuously with family members on the north side of Chicago. She died in 1961 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.