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Pettersen, Eleanore, 1916-2003



  • Existence: 1916 - 2003

Biographical Note

Eleanore K. Pettersen entered Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art in New York City in 1937 intent on studying painting; but, her first drafting course changed her focus and she emerged in 1941 with a Certificate in Architecture. Following Cooper Union she apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin from 1941 to 1943. After leaving the communal environment of Taliesin, where Pettersen comments that she “was never without a bandage the whole time,” she worked on various projects including the National Defense Research Committee in Princeton, NJ, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and with architect Arthur Rigolo in Clifton, New Jersey before becoming licensed as an architect in the state of New Jersey in 1950 and opening her own architectural office in 1952. Pettersen was the first woman in the state to open her own architectural office and she did so in style, renovating a 200-year-old barn in Saddle River, NJ, to be her home and office.

Over the years she employed a number of interns and apprentices (often women), preferring to hire right out of architecture school. Within a few weeks of being hired and initiated into the firm’s detail-oriented method, the new employees were assigned their own projects and were encouraged to work closely with the clients and to follow their projects through not only the design but building aspects as well. In July 1970, Pettersen formed Design Collaborative, an interior design component to her architectural firm, furthering her thorough involvement in the design process.

Although Pettersen designed a number of commercial and institutional properties, she was primarily a residential architect. Among her clients were former President Richard Nixon and jazz artist George Benson. She was also extremely proud of her involvement with the luxury town house community, Bear’s Nest, in Park Ridge, New Jersey. It was developed in phases during the 1980s and 1990s, and each of the approximately 200 units had custom design features.

She stressed a personal relationship with the clients, and this is very evident in the correspondence and writings found within her collection. An excerpt from the program Ageless Perceptions IV: Senior Women in Architecture, an exhibit held at the SOHO20 Gallery in New York City, highlights Pettersen’s devotion to architecture

Pettersen’s commitment to architecture superseded creating designs and working with clients. She also served on a number of national and local professional/civic organizations promoting architecture as a viable profession for women with her presence and accomplishments.

In 1957 she founded the Bergen County Chapter of Altrusa (a service organization for professional women), and over her decades long involvement served as president for three non-consecutive terms. She was also on several boards including: the Arts Center of Northern New Jersey; Ramapo College of New Jersey; the Mercer Community College board of directors; Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); and various Bergen County committees including the Bergen County Task Force of Affordable Housing.

Professionally she was just as engaged becoming a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1954 and serving on various sub-committees. She also belonged to the New Jersey Society of Architects, the Architectural League of Northern New Jersey, and served on the boards of local architecture schools like the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Pettersen was featured in [at least] three exhibitions: Ageless Perceptions IV – Senior Women in Architecture at the SOHO20 Gallery in New York City in 1991, Eleanore Pettersen, FAIA/Four Decades (a one-woman show) at the Arts Center of Northern New Jersey in New Milford, NJ, in 1991, and Taliesin Legacy: The Independent Work of Frank Lloyd Wright Apprentices at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York in 1992.

During her fifty year career Pettersen achieved a number of firsts including: the first woman recipient of the Professional Achievement Citation for Distinguished Accomplishments by Cooper Union (1965); first woman appointed by the governor to the New Jersey State Board of Architects and subsequently its first woman president (1975- 1976); first female president of the New Jersey Society of Architects (1984); and first woman elected as New Jersey’s Regional Director to the AIA Board (1986-1989). Pettersen was named an AIA Fellow in 1991. She passed away at her Saddle River home in 2003.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

"Glass Ceilings: Highlights from the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center," selected exhibit panels

Identifier: Ms-2011-075

"Glass Ceilings: Highlights from the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center" was an exhibition held at the Virginia Center for Architecture in Richmond, Virginia, as part of their Dominion Exhibition Series and was on display from March 4-June 6, 2010. It featured the work of pioneering women in architecture and design from the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) collection at Virginia Tech.

Dates: 2010

Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection,

Identifier: Ms-2003-018
Abstract Eleanore K. Pettersen (1916-2003) received a Certificate in Architecture from Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art in 1941, and was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin from 1941-1943. She was one of the first women licensed as an architect in the state of New Jersey in 1950, and was the first woman in New Jersey to open her own architectural office. She primarily designed residences and was also very active in professional and civic organizations. She became a Fellow...
Dates: 1915 - 2003; Majority of material found within 1950 - 2000