September 30, 2007
by Canadian Architect
The Art Institute of Chicago announces the long-awaited online publication of Marion Mahony Griffins The Magic of America. For the first time, this landmark work of architectural history and theory is available in electronic form on the World Wide Web at www.artic.edu/magicofamerica/. Conceived and completed by staff of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute, the online version of The Magic of America is a signal event in the developing accessibility of archival resources. Only three copies of the complete Magic manuscript exist in the worldtwo in the collection of the Art Institute and one at the New York Historical Society.
Marion Mahony Griffin (18711961), the second woman to receive a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and first licensed female architect in Illinois, is perhaps best known as Frank Lloyd Wrights principal delineator. A draftsman with a unique personal style that helped to define the Prairie School of architecture, Griffin was instrumental in bringing Wrights ideas into graphic form. After working with Wright and practicing architecture with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin (18761937), for decades in the United States, India, and Australia, she began The Magic of America in the 1940s, when she was in her 70s. Since her death in 1961, The Magic of America has achieved a kind of cult status among architects, designers, artists, and historians. Described by some as impossible, the heavily illustrated 1,400-page manuscript never found a publisher in Griffins lifetime or thereafter. Nonetheless, its reputation as a manifesto, polemic, memoir, and chronicle of a brilliant mind has grown over the decades. The Art Institutes Ryerson and Burnham Libraries have fielded hundreds of requests from researchers for time with the manuscript.
The Magic of America focuses on the Griffins architectural careers, containing discussions of specific projects and architectural principles in the context of history, theories of architecture and urban planning, observations of nature, and the social, environmental, and aesthetic implications of built environments. Walter Burley Griffin is perhaps best known as the winner of the competition in 1912 to design the new national capital of Australia, Canberra; prior to that he designed a number of Prairie Style buildings in Chicago and the Midwest. The Griffins fundamental belief in the harmony of art and architecture with nature is here given marvelous form by Marion Mahony Griffins wide-ranging thought and copious illustrations. Function and economy, beauty and practicality are all central themes in The Magic of America, making it a prescient document as well as one of the richest primary sources available to architectural historians. Because of the fragile condition of the manuscript, public access of the document had to be restricted to microfilm copies. But driven by demand for the manuscript and aided by advances in web publishing, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, under Director of Libraries Jack Perry Brown, undertook the task of converting the manuscript into electronic form. Working from the Art Institutes two copies and the loan of the New York Historical Societys version, staff from several units of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries scanned and hand-corrected the 350,000-word manuscript.
This two-year project came to fruition when The Magic of America was made available online August 2007. The complete text is available in facsimile format and in searchable web text, and the Web version includes a substantial scholarly apparatus. The electronic edition of The Magic of America collates all known copies into a searchable text, now fully available worldwide to its many and diverse audiences. Web publishing provides direct access to primary sources heretofore impossible, Brown stated.