architect, was born on 14 February 1871 in Chicago (USA), daughter of a school-teacher named Mahony. After obtaining a BSc from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894, she became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in the state of Illinois. She became, as Susan Berkon notes, 'a design collaborator with three male architects (Frank Lloyd Wright, Hermann von Holst, and Walter Burley Griffin)’—a necessity for any woman architect at the turn of the century. Despite the interior designs she did for Wright’s houses from 1895 and the 'virtuoso drawings’ she executed for a monograph on Wright to be published in Berlin—thus promoting his international reputation—she remained his 'collaborator’ only. When she took over Wright’s unfinished projects after he absconded to Europe in 1909, most of her architectural drawings were signed by Hermann von Holst (the head of the firm) with Marion merely the 'associate’ architect.
Marion Mahony married Walter Burley Griffin in Chicago on 29 June 1911. She was forty, he five years her junior; they had no children. Historians have tended to treat the Griffin-Mahony marriage as a repetition of the Wright-Mahony relationship: 'her hero-worship of Wright was transferred to Griffin’, according to Peter Harrison. Marion herself described the marriage as an 'equitable partnership together’ with 'each individual independent and responsible’. Yet although they worked together in a valuable symbiotic association, it was Walter who had the public profile. The winning design for the proposed Australian federal capital, Canberra, in 1912 has always been known as Walter’s alone, even though Marion drew the elegant perspective watercolours (Australian Archives) that were said to have influenced the judges in its favour.
While Walter acted as part-time director of design and construction for the new capital for seven years, the Griffins also undertook many private architectural commissions. Walter’s brother-in-law Roy Lippincott – who worked as draughtsman for the Griffins – claimed that it was Marion who was responsible for the success of the Café Australia and the Melbourne Capitol Theatre (1922-24) projects. As well as the stunning ceiling of the Capitol Theatre, she is also attributed with the design of the symbolic tiles on the Pyrmont Incinerator (demolished 1992).
In 1920 the Griffins set up a company to develop a residential estate, Castlecrag, on the shores of Sydney Harbour; they settled there in 1925. This was to be a self-contained community, with all houses designed by Walter to complement the natural landscape. Marion ran the Castlecrag office, supervised or prepared all drawings and led local cultural activities. Both were interested in Theosophy by this time; later they became interested in the theories of Rudolph Steiner. In retrospect, the Castlecrag estate seems a bold, if flawed, venture; at the time, their interest in preserving the natural environment, holding Anthroposophical Society festivals and producing Greek plays in their open-air New Scenic Haven Theatre, even the unusual architecture and its siting seemed capricious.
[A collection of archival material on the Griffins in the 1920s and 1930s from the estate of architect Eric Nicholls who was W.B. Griffin’s business partner in the Sydney and Melbourne offices was offered at auction in Sydney by Phillips on 31 July 2001. It included a drawing attributed to Marion of GSDA Dwellings no 1 and 2 Castlecrag 1922, ink & watercolour on silk, and a leadlight window designed by Walter and Marion c.1925, both ill. World of Antiques and Art 61st edn (July-December 2001), prelims, p.8]
After Walter went to India in 1935, Marion maintained the Sydney office with Walter’s young partner Eric Nicholls, until joining her husband in May 1936. After Walter died in Lucknow on 11 February 1937, she returned briefly to Castlecrag, but left for Chicago in 1938. She undertook two major community projects in New Hampshire and Texas and produced a design for South Chicago, none of which was ever completed. She also wrote a history of her professional life with her husband, 'The Magic of America’, which was never published. She died on 10 August 1961.