Elevate Difference

Marion Manley: Miami's First Woman Architect

Marion Manley was not merely Miami’s first female architect, she also played a crucial role in the area’s planning. Responsible for much of the design of the University of Miami—dubbed “the first modern university”—Manley was also a pioneer in what we now call “green building” and ecological preservation.

Authors Catherine Lynn and Carie Penabad, both professors of architecture at the University of Miami—where Manley spent much of the 1940s designing a wide variety of buildings, from housing for veterans to student worship centers—have done much to bring Manley’s legacy back into the spotlight. This beautiful book, complete with photos and artist renderings of the buildings Manley designed, also includes technical details that architects and design-buffs will appreciate. Above all, however, it’s an overdue tribute to a woman who accomplished so much so far ahead of her time.

Throughout most of her career, though she was a groundbreaking professional, Manley’s work was largely eclipsed by lower-ranking men in her field. She got little credit for the work she did—which was impressive not just because it was a first for her gender, but for their architectural and technical merit—and what credit she got, she had to fight for. Working into her eighties (Manley died in 1984 at age ninety), Manley also served on numerous state and national boards and commissions, donated her design work for charitable causes, and did professional work to support the war efforts in WWI and WWII.

Though I enjoyed the book, I would have loved to have read more about Manley’s personal life. The authors throw out teasers now and then (her “cussing out” of incompetent contractors, and telling interviewers that she was “a hedonist” in her eighties both come to mind), but for the most part stick to the straightforward—and at times, dry—account of her work. Nevertheless, it is a step toward restoring Manley’s contributions to their rightful place in design history.

There is precious little to be found about Manley on the internet; most of what does exist is related to this book. Let us hope, then, that this tome on her body of professional work spurs a renewed interest in Manley and her accomplishments.

Written by: M.L. Madison, December 10th 2010