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Brigitte Peterhans (b. 1928)

Dates of Interview:

December 19, 20, 24, 26, 2007

Location of Interview:

Peterhans' home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

225 pages
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Biographical Summary

Brigitte Peterhans was born in 1928 in Sulz am Necker, Germany. After enduring difficult wartime years there, she began her study of architecture at the University of Stuttgart. Fortuitously she met Myron Goldsmith, an American architecture student, while he was traveling in Europe and they became fast friends. Myron encouraged Brigitte to apply for a Fulbright Fellowship to study with Mies van der Rohe in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where in 1962 she earned her Master in the Science of Architecture. While still a student Peterhans was hired by SOM to work part-time on interiors with Jane Graham, beginning a thirty-three year professional and personal connection with SOM and the Grahams, Bruce and Jane. Peterhans' work almost always was projects that Bruce had designed and built. They included the Arab International Bank in Cairo, Egypt; Baxter Laboratories in Deerfield, Illinois; Exchange House in London, England; and Perimeter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout her career at SOM Peterhans respected her obligations to her family by frequently taking a leave-of-absence to travel to Germany. Peterhans was made a SOM associate in 1973, and an associate partner in 1979 before she retired in 1990.

Interview Highlights

Peterhans speaks about her family and some of her World War II experiences, traveling and working as a farmhand in Switzerland and as an exchange student, meeting Myron Goldsmith, applying for a Fulbright Fellowship, studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies, her brief marriage to Walter Peterhans, working at SOM part-time in the interiors department and full-time in architecture a few years later, recollections of how IIT was organized, working with Jane Graham and Bruce, changes she observed at SOM, Jane Graham's life story, the pleasures and difficulties of jobs such as the Arab International Bank in Cairo, Egypt, working with Artigas, retiring in 1990, her brother Joerg's accomplishments and ideas, advice to students.

Broadgate Exchange House, London, England, 1990
Photo by Richard Waite; Copyright, Richard Waite; Courtesy, SOM and Richard Waite

Baxter International, Inc., Deerfield, IL, 1975
Photo by HNK Architectural Photography, Inc.
Copyright, HNK Architectural Photography, Inc.; Courtesy, SOM and Howard Kaplan

Interview Excerpt

"Peterhans, Hilbs and Mies had never really taught together at the Bauhaus. They were all at the Bauhaus teaching separately... Peterhans, Hilbs and Mies: they were all at the same time at the Bauhaus, but in completely different fields, right? Peterhans, was in the photography department; Hilbs was doing all sorts of things, including buildings; and Mies was the director. Then they started here. They didn't want to do it like the German Bauhaus. They were not so crazy about the Bauhaus. None of them felt the Bauhaus was the utmost, as it has become now. They thought it was just a place where interesting people came together... So, they wanted to start completely new—not like at the German Bauhaus. But when they came here, they really wanted to start an architectural school, which the Bauhaus was not. It had everything, the Bauhaus was teaching everything: pottery, photography, painting, weaving, metal work, and everything. So, when they came here and happened to get together to do this architecture school, which Mies had been offered to do, they were given a clean slate. That was their lucky condition. Yet they were very unsure how they should do it in this foreign country. But they just had to simply start right away, Peterhans doing the visual training with photography, Hilbs the urban planning, and Mies architecture. They met—I know this—they met every week, twice or so, for lunch—for a very long lunch, two or three or more hours, in which they discussed how to do the school. They exchanged what they had experienced, what worked, what didn't work. And initially, they made changes all the time. They were very clear-minded and rational about this. And so, they built up slowly over several years, from what I know. This curriculum was used for a long time, and even to some extent, now, from what I know." (pp. 74-75)

Cafeteria, Baxter International, Inc., Deerfield, IL, 1975
Photo by Ezra Stoller; Copyright, Esto; Courtesy, Esto

Additional Resources

Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP.