James Marjoribanks MacLaren was born in Scotland near Stirling on the 12th of January. MacLaren was the sixth of 11 children of John MacLaren, a farmer at Middleton of Boquhapple, Thornhill, Callander and his first wife Janet Downie.
MacLaren attended a local school in the nearby village of Thornhill.
MacLaren enrolled at Stirling High School.
In about 1871 MacLaren moved to Glasgow where his three elder brothers were living. He was articled to Salmon Son & Ritchie.
MacLaren won honourable mention in the 'Building News' competition for his entry of a ''detached suburban villa'.
MacLaren joined Campbell Douglas and Sellars.
MacLaren was admitted to the architectural school of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, London, a school of arts for architects, painters and sculptors.
MacLaren travelled to various countries on the Continent, sketching in Spain and Switzerland and studying in Paris, possibly at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
During the early 1880s MacLaren completed the design for St Michael's Church, Crieff (which was not used). He was joined in London by his younger brother Thomas and he began working as assistant to Cornish architect Richard Coad.
MacLaren married Margaret Mathieson MacColl the daughter of a prominent Free Church minister in London. Her brother, Dugald Sutherland MacColl, later a leading art critic and curator of the Tate Gallery, was a close friend of James.
James and Margaret’s first children - twin sons - were born. His third son was born in 1886, his first daughter in 1887 and his last child, another daughter, in 1889.
MacLaren's first commission by Sir Donald Currie, in May 1886, was to extend the existing mill to create Balnald Sawmill. He also designed the charming, stone-built, semi-detached Balnald Farmhouse in Fortingall. He designed Balnald Cottages which were eventually built at Kirkton in Fortingall, in 1890, and known as Kirkton Cottages.
He won a competition to build a new wing for Stirling High School, his old school.
MacLaren joined the Art Workers Guild.
Together with Richard Coad, MacLaren worked on the restoration of Bowringsleigh, an Elizabethan building in West Alvington, Devon.
He also designed the extension to Ripple Court, a country house near Deal, Kent.
MacLaren was commissioned to design Hotel Santa Catalina, a landmark of Las Palmas, the capital city of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. This purpose built hotel was inaugurated in 1890.
MacLaren designed 10-12 Palace Court, Bayswater.
He began working on the Aberfeldy Town Hall in 1889 and the buildings were opened on 5th December, 1891.
He designed Glenlyon Farmhouse and Farmsteading during 1889. The Farmsteading was built before his death in 1890, while the Farmhouse was not completed until after.
He also designed the Policeman's Cottage in Fortingall.
MacLaren, William Dunn and engineer AD Stewart were awarded the first premium of five hundred guineas in an international competition to submit a design for Wembley Tower - a tower to exceed the height of the Eiffel Tower, to be built as an attraction in Wembley Park.
Robert Lorimer worked part-time for MacLaren in the early months of 1890.
On the 20th of October, at the age of 37, MacLaren died of tuberculosis. He was buried in Hampstead, London.
Sir Donald Currie's patronage passed to Dunn and Watson who formed a partnership to continue the practice and provide a measure of financial support for MacLaren's widow and five young children. Robert Lorimer, who had worked part-time for MacLaren in the early months of 1890, joined the office for a year. The practice first supervised the completion of 10-12 Palace Court in Bayswater and the Fenchurch Street offices in the City.
The practice became Dunn, Watson & Curtis Green in 1912 when William Curtis Green joined the partnership. Robert Watson died in February 1916; Dunn retired to Kenya in 1919 and died there on 7 February 1934: Dunn had South African connections through work for the Union Castle Line, and they had branch offices in Cape Town, Durban and East London. Green’s best known work is the façade for the Dorchester Hotel in London. In Fortingall he designed the Molteno Memorial Hall for Currie’s daughter. He died on 26 March 1960.
In Fortingall, Dunn and Watson completed MacLaren’s work on Kirkton Cottages, and reconstructed Fortingall Hotel from a sketch by MacLaren. They reconstructed Glenlyon House, probably from MacLaren’s ideas, and later added the laundry block. In 1894 they rebuilt the clachan of Ardtrasgairt, and in 1901 – 1902 the old kirk of Fortingall to which in 1913 they added a reredos and stone panels in memory of Sir Donald Currie. In 1913 they also built a new terrace of cottages in Fortingall. Nearby Fortingall they built Keltneyburn Reading Room and a new bridge over the Keltney Burn. Elsewhere in Perthshire, also for Currie, they refurbished Dunkeld Cathedral and built the Aberfeldy Cottage Hospital; and off the Isle of Skye built a house and cottages on Scalpay. In addition to much work in England and Africa, they built an iconic water tower in Romania.