Modernizing UM: Marion Manley’s Revisioned College Campus

Manley_1946Thirty-second Annual Convention of the Florida Association of Architects, Saint Petersburg, November 1946. Photo Courtesy: HistoryMiami

Marion Manley (1893-1984) has been called “Miami’s first woman architect.” Born and raised in Kansas, Manley attended the University of Kansas before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1914. She studied in the architecture department of the School of Engineering and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture. After graduating in 1917 Manley attended summer school at the University of Michigan and lived briefly in Philadelphia to design ships for the Emergency Fleet Corp. of the U.S. Shipping Board before moving to Miami where her brother, Lester Manley, introduced her to important local architects. Marion Manley was young and ambitious a lot like the newly incorporated city.

Manley worked for several firms in the area and became the second licensed female architect in the State of Florida in 1918. She then worked in South Carolina from 1922 to 1923 before moving back to Miami to start her own independent architectural firm around 1924. She soon became a member of the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (later she served as president of the South Florida Chapter from 1941 to 1942). Manley, as did many of her male counterparts in the field, took full advantage of the Miami Land Boom years. However, the devastating impact of the September 1926 hurricane as well as the Great Depression saw the decline of future land developments. She closed her firm in 1929 and worked as a senior draftsman/associate architect for Paist and Steward (Phineas Paist was an associate architect for the grand Villa Vizcaya). The firm was awarded a Works Progress Administration project to design the U.S. post office and federal courthouse in downtown Miami at 300 NE First Avenue. Manley was a contributing designer to the building but little credit has been given to her until most recently. During this time Manley lived with noted Florida environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and became close friends with Barbara Ashe, daughter of University of Miami (UM) president Bowman Ashe. Though she reinstated her independent firm in the early 1930s, Manley was hired by Ashe to make architectural drawings for UM in 1940 for a proposed music auditorium. By 1943 Manley was considered as University Architect, having moved her office to on campus, and served as instructor in mechanical drawing from 1943 to 1944. She oversaw many of the UM’s planned modern buildings. Manley’s work reflects modernist ideology including the theories by influential architect Le Corbusier. Her structures are often cited as simple, functional, and economical all while being environmentally conscious of Florida’s natural elements. Her projects included the unconventional and daring design for an aquarium and marine laboratory on Virginia Key but were never realized.  As part of Ashe’s plan to revitalize UM post-Depression, he and Manley hired local architect Robert Law Weed to visualize a “modern college.”

Manley at UMManley at her University of Miami office. Photo Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Miami Libraries

Sketch for UM Virginia Key Center_1944Preliminary Sketches for Aquarium and Marine Laboratory, Virginia Key, Florida, 1944. Photo Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Miami Libraries

The collaboration resulted in a master plan for the main campus. Student enrollment substantially increased after World War II and UM needed more facilities to accommodate the growing student body. Projects included the Memorial Classroom Building (1946), the Student Recreation Center (1947), and the Veterans Housing Building (1948). Today, the Recreation Center has been completely renovated and the Veterans Project is home to the School of Architecture.

Memorial Classroom BuildingMemorial Classroom Building. Photo Courtesy: Ezra Stoller © Esto

UM Student Club CenterRendering of Student Club, 1947. Photo Courtesy: HistoryMiami

Student Club with Patio Extended to the LakeUniversity of Miami Student Club Overlooking Lake Osceola. Ezra Stoller © Esto

Manley’s independent projects for UM were the temporary wooden buildings for several departments known as the “shacks” (1947), various chapels and student centers, and the round Ring Theatre (1951), her last commission from UM.

UM ShacksPost World War II Temporary Construction and Shacks on Main Campus. Photo Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Miami Libraries

Ring TheaterRing Theatre. Photo Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Miami Libraries

Commenting on Manley’s architectural style, architect Carie Penabad has noted that “Manley’s career is emblematic of the twentieth-century regionalist architect who worked first to bring academic models derived from classical precedents to many parts of the country, then to supplant those traditional styles with the new international style, successively adapting each of them to a variety of extreme American climates, and finally to create local vernacular inspired by the spirit of a given place and reflective of regionalist attitudes about the building of a city.”

For an in-depth account on Marion Manley’s life and career and a catalog of all her known projects, refer to Marion Manley: Miami’s First Woman Architect (2010) by Catherine Lynn and Carie Penabad.

-Marvin Aguilar

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