Remembering Brigitte Peterhans, former SOM Associate Partner

Photo © SOM

Brigitte Peterhans, a former SOM Associate Partner, passed away on January 15, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. 

Peterhans joined SOM’s Chicago office full-time in 1970, and became an Associate in 1973 and Associate Partner in 1979. As an architectural and interiors design leader at SOM, Peterhans contributed to some of the firm’s most notable projects from the 20th century, including Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago, Broadgate Exchange House in London, Hilton Cairo World Trade Center and Hotel in Egypt, and Baxter Travenol Laboratories in Deerfield, Illinois. Her former colleagues remember her fondly as a force of nature; a meticulous modernist who always spoke her mind.

In the early 1950s, a chance encounter with Myron Goldsmith at a youth hostel in Zurich resulted in Peterhans moving to Chicago on a Fulbright Scholarship to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) under Mies van der Rohe. It was there that she met her husband, Bauhaus photographer and IIT professor Walter Peterhans, and connected with Jane and Bruce Graham. She soon began working part-time under Jane Graham in SOM’s interior design studio. She received her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Stuttgart in 1960, her Master of Architecture from IIT in 1962, and became a registered architect in Germany in 1966. For several years, she traveled and worked between the United States and her home country, before joining SOM full-time in 1970, where she collaborated extensively with Bruce Graham on many projects until her retirement in 1990. 

Raised in Germany, Peterhans and her family narrowly escaped World War II bombings and took shelter in the countryside until the end of the war. The eldest of five children, she developed an early interest in design from her father, a Lutheran parson who loved architecture. Her younger brother, Jörg Schlaich, is a world-renowned structural engineer.

Her oral history is accessible through the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive. 

We extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to Brigitte Peterhans’ family and loved ones.