Buildings drawn by hand — Marion Mahony

Recommended sketcher

One of my favorite part-time jobs in college was working as security guard at the local art museum. And one of my favorite exhibits spotlighted the work of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employee: Marion Mahony.

Not only did I get to view her works on display in the museum, I studied her work in an architectural history class on the same subject— both learning in the classroom and researching for projects in the excellent Chicago History Museum’s Archive and Manuscript holdings.

Marion Mahony was the second woman to graduate from MIT with a degree in architecture (in 1894), and the first woman to obtain an architecture license in Illinois. For years she “worked with Wright, designing her own buildings and producing drawings of Wright designs that helped establish his reputation.”

However, what captivated me most was her ability to take the conventional architectural drawing out of bounds. Her portrayals not only detailed floor plans but also displayed intricate foliage design work making her plans more like art.

Google image search of “Marion Mahony drawing”

I won’t go into her belief of fairies and how that influenced her intricate design work (a la Fern Gully), although that certainly captivated me, too.

Meet Marion Mahony Griffin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s best frenemy

Author: Claire Zulkey, Curbed



The fire had another effect on Marion’s life: The destruction of 17,500 buildings resulted in what would be known as a Great Rebuilding, to which Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan contributed. Their work would influence Marion both in Chicago, where she worked with Prairie School architects like Wright, and in Australia, where she and Walter designed Canberra, the capital, influenced by the World’s Columbian Exposition, driven by Burnham and Sullivan.
For nearly 15 years, off and on, Mahony Griffin worked with Wright, designing her own buildings and producing drawings of Wright designs that helped establish his reputation. She created drawings for the Wasmuth Portfolio, the book of lithographs that made Wright famous around the world. Mahony Griffin’s Japanese-influenced illustrations became what many people to this day envision when they hear the name “Frank Lloyd Wright.”