Paradise on Earth: Marion Mahoney Griffin

‘Paradise on Earth’ brings the extraordinary life and work of Marion Mahoney Griffin (1871-1961) to the Museum of Sydney. Griffin’s unique architectural vision was like no other of her time. Typical of the era though, Marion’s splendid work went largely unrecognised veiled in the shadows of her husband, building and landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937). Walter is renowned for the design of Australia’s capital city Canberra. In 1911 Walter’s architectural plans, meticulously rendered in the hand of Marion, won the Australian Commonwealth Government’s federal capital design competition, later bringing the American architects to Australia.

THR Wilson House, Castlecrag c. 1929 (c) National Library of Australia

In recent times recognition of women’s achievements and contributions to the arts has been gaining momentum. In 1894 Marion was the second only female to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a landscape architect and artist. Her inspiring story is one that surely deserves our attention more than one hundred years on.

Marion had a deep passion for the natural environment. Her love of the Australian landscape and its flora was inspiration for the development of her ground-breaking architectural housing designs in Australia. Beginning in 1920 Marion worked towards bringing her dream of a utopian ‘Paradise on Earth’ to reality in glorious splendour at Castlecrag. Today, Castlecrag on the northern side of the city is one of Sydney’s most sought-after suburbs offering a lifestyle where community, nature and the built environment exist in an idyllic state of urban harmony.

Until 18 April 2021 ‘Paradise on Earth’ invites audiences into the enchanting realms of the trailblazing architect’s world of creativity and design with a collection of Marion’s drawings, writings and objects alongside moving image, installations and digital day/night sequences, and a dramatic installation piece by The Mint’s Artist in Residence, Dr Lisa Cooper, which responds to Marion’s iconic and beautiful ‘Forest Portrait’ drawing series.

Doric temple erected for the play Iphigenia in Tauris, HAven Scenic Theatre, Castlecrag circa 1935 (c) National Library of Australia

Throughout the exhibition audiences can trace Marion’s journey from her architectural studies and accomplishments to her collaborative projects with Walter, which include Café Australia (1916), the Capitol Theatre (1924), and The Haven Amphitheatre (1934). The Haven is built into the landscape of a natural gully in Castlecrag, which Marion designed into a tiered ‘scenic theatre’ as a place for gatherings and performances, and still in use today.

Go inside some of the beautifully designed houses built by Marion and Walter in this video presentation with exhibition curator Dr Anne Watson and other experts, architects, and current and former residents sharing their knowledge and experiences of Griffin-designed homes.

Exhibition entry is included with general Museum ticketing. The Museum is currently open Thursday-Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Bookings are essential.

“There’s something truly magical about this exhibition,” says Adam Lindsay, Executive Director, Sydney Living Museums and NSW State Archives. “Whether you are young or the young-at-heart, there is something in Paradise on Earth for everyone.”