Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) graduated from the University of Illinois in 1899. An enthusiastic follower of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, Griffin began his career in the Oak Park practice of another Sullivan disciple, Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1901. There he met Marion Lucy Mahony, whom Wright had hired as his first employee in 1895, a graduate of the MIT School of Architecture and the first licensed woman architect in the state of Illinois. Both contributed their own expertise and innovations to the residential and landscape designs credited to Wright before leaving his employ, Walter in 1906 and Marion in 1909, when Wright left for Europe with Mrs. Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. (She continued contributing to Wright's commissions, however, which Wright had left in the hands of fellow architect Hermann V. von Holst.)

Griffin's and Mahony's professional partnership blossomed into a personal relationship and they married in 1911, which turned out to be a pivotal year in their history. It was not only the year of their marriage and the year of the Ricker House commission, but also the year in which, with Marion's aid and encouragement, Walter entered the competition to design the master plan for Canberra, the new capital city of Australia. In 1912 he was declared the winner of that competition, and shortly thereafter the Griffins moved to Australia, never to return to their American practice.