By Melissa Mitchell
The architecture world's most famous pair of Griffins had neither wings nor tails, but their accomplishments were indeed fantastic. Decades after they left their imprint on the architecture of three continents, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin are the focus of a symposium drawing scholars from around the globe to the UI Oct. 2-4.
"The Griffins in Context: America, Australia, India (1935-37)" is intended "to serve as an introduction to the accomplishments of the Griffins and celebrate the connections between the UI and one of its most significant alumni, Walter Burley Griffin," said symposium organizer Paul Kruty, a UI professor of architectural history and Griffin scholar.
Best known as members of Chicago's Prairie School of architects, the Griffins eventually developed styles that were uniquely their own, Kruty said. The couple first met after Walter Griffin graduated from the UI and went to work as Frank Lloyd Wright's chief associate in Wright's Oak Park studio in 1901. Mahony was one of Wright's draftsmen there. The pair did not become romantically involved, however, until several years later after Griffin had split from Wright and established his own firm. They were reunited professionally while working on a project in Decatur, Ill.; Mahony was the architect, and Griffin was the landscape architect on the project. They were married in 1911.
By then, Griffin was beginning to break free from Wright's stylistic influence, establishing himself as a respected architect in his own right. "Historically, his work has been neglected for two main reasons," Kruty said. "First, because he lived in the shadow of Wright, and second, because a third of his work is in one country, and the other two-thirds is split over two other continents."
The Griffins moved to Australia in 1914 after Walter Griffin won an international
competition to design the new Australian capital of Canberra. They remained
there until 1935, when Walter traveled to India to oversee construction
of the Lucknow University Library. Marion joined him there the next year.