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Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection, 1915-2003 (Ms2003-018)

 Digital Record
Identifier: Ms2003-018


  • 1915 - 2003

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish from the Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Biographical Information

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:

1991 will be my fortieth year as an architectural principal with my own office. Architecture has been a total commitment. If I were to make a choice all over again, the choice would be the same. Architecture has imbued me with a sense of self worth and has given me the privilege of contributing a new sense of life and meaning to my clients and their families.

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.

Language of Materials


Acquisition Information

The Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection was donated to Special Collections in September 2003. Additions were received in April 2010 and August 2011.

Related Material

The ImageBase at Virginia Tech's Special Collections contains digital images of Pettersen's work.

General Physical Description note

218 containers; 296 cu. ft.

Physical Characteristics

Some of the materials in the collection were matted for inclusion in "Glass Ceilings: Highlights from the IAWA Center" an exhibit held at the Virginia Center for Architecture, Richmond, VA, 2010.


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 of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) in 1991. The collection consists of project files, sketches, blueprints, drawings, models, photographs, and other material relating to over 600 of Pettersen's projects as well as material relating to her participation in various professional and civic organizations. The materials in the collection range in date from 1915-2003 with the bulk of the material dating 1950-2000.


Pettersen’s collection encompasses over fifty years of architectural practice including project files, sketches, drawings, blueprints, models, slides and photographs representing approximately 600 designs. The collection also contains Pettersen’s personal papers including biographical information, family papers, and photographs. The materials range in date from 1915-2003 (bulk 1950-2000) and are divided into five series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, and Artifacts and Models. See the contents list below for more detail about the individual series.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection commenced in February, 2009 and was completed in February, 2010. Preliminary processing was untaken by Amy Vilelle in 2007.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US