Collection Type:

1909 to 1972

Peter Berndtson was a Wrightian designer who maintained a largely domestic practice in the Pittsburgh area between 1947 and 1972. Berndtson was studying at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in Wisconsin, when he met and married Cornelia Brierly (1913-2012), a fellow student, who had formerly studied at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. The Berndtsons settled in southwestern Pennsylvania, and together applied Wrightian theories to the design of houses. After Cornelia returned to Taliesin in 1957, Peter Berndtson continued on with the regional practice.

Berndtson's buildings are rooted in Wrightian principles and the practice of "organic" architecture. They tend to share the horizontal massing, geometric rationale, conceptual unity and careful siting of Wright's houses, and employ a Wrightian vocabulary of overhanging eaves and ribbon windows. Some of Berndtson's houses are closely related to Wright's Usonian houses, and many feature radiant heating plans. These are not slavish imitations, however; Berndtson absorbed Wright's principles, but he was an accomplished designer in his own right. Clients praised him for his personal investment in each design.

In addition to private houses, Berndtson developed master plans for a number of planned communities, which remained largely unrealized, and designed a handful of commercial and institutional buildings.

Berndtson's close ties to Wright are as evident in his drawing style as in his architecture. His colored-pencil renderings, executed in a uniform horizontal format, are very Wrightian in appearance. They often include floral detailing so as to associate his houses with a perpetual springtime. His meticulous working drawings emphasize craftsmanship. Since many of his houses were designed on modules -- usually four-foot square, occasionally hexagonal -- his drawings often show the guidelines of the module.

Scope and Content: 

The Berndtson Collection comprises specifications, contracts, correspondence, numerous photographs, and over 1700 sketches, renderings, working drawings and blueprints documenting nearly 100 projects. This collection of records is especially complete and illustrates all aspects of an architectural practice. The collection includes Berndtson's office records, augmented with materials from a 1971 exhibit at the University of Pittsburgh's University Art Gallery, and materials from the preparation of Miller and Sheon's Organic Vision monograph of 1980.

Select Bibliography: 

Guggenheimer, Tobias. A Taliesin Legacy: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright's Apprentices. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995. 64-68.

Miller, Donald and Aaron Sheon. Organic Vision: The Architecture of Peter Berndtson. The Hexagon Press, 1980.

Sheon, Aaron. The Architecture of Peter Berndtson (exhibit catalog). University of Pittsburgh, 1971.

Van Trump, James D. "Architecture and the Pittsburgh Land: The Buildings of Peter Berndtson." Life and Architecture in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 1983.