Blueprint for Life: Peggy Cochrane ‘44, AIA

by Anne Dullaghan

When Peggy Cochrane, AIA, was in third grade, her teacher read the class a book of poems called Vagabond House. “It was then,” she says, “that I decided to be an architect to travel to remote countries, and to build my own dream house.”

Nestled in the scenic hills above Sherman Oaks, CA, Peggy’s Vagabond House is Mexican contemporary in design, inspired by the Pedregal Gardens in Mexico City. Once inside, family antiques and souvenirs from her many travels to Mexico, Peru, Africa, Egypt, Iran, China, Tibet, and New Guinea showcase Peggy’s eclectic tastes. “It expresses my architectural philosophy of being comfortable, colorful, and home.”

As an art major at Scripps, studying under Millard Sheets, Peggy soon discovered her budding design and building talents. “After taking art for a year, my advisor thought I should go into architecture,” she laughs. “That way I could get a job and make more money that if I was an artist.”

In post WWII America, an architectural degree wasn’t necessary for the profession, but specific training ad education to be able to pass the state board was. Peggy studied architecture at Columbia University and engineering and mathematics at USC, eventually earning her AIA in the 50s.

She notes that during the war years of the 1940s, jobs were easier to come by for women hoping to break into the “traditional” professions held mostly by men. “Afterward,” she recalls, “there was a lot of discrimination against women in business.”

Always an active voice in the quest for equal rights for women, Peggy never let her male coworkers’ comments and not-so-subtle attempts to derail her work discourage her. Instead, Peggy pioneered new ground, spending several years in the 1950s working overseas as an architect in Iran.

“My husband was an electrical engineer, and he go t a job in Iran,” she says. “The same firm hired me to design schools, hospitals, and commercial buildings. At the time, the Shah was trying to Westernize everything, and I really enjoyed the work.”

After returning to the United STates, Peggy went into business for herself and has since designed numerous apartment buildings, condominiums, and homes. “I’ve also designed or remodeled most of my friends’ homes–and they seem to be happy with what I’ve done,” she adds.

Peggy’s Vagabond House was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and condemned. Serving as her own contractor she was on the job site every day until completion, three months later, and rented an apartment nearby. Even though it was built strictly to code in 1966, Peggy brought it up to the current code with four new shear walls. The house has a maximum of glass (plate and tempered to reduce earthquake damage) and a a maximum of ventilation. “I did my own landscaping,” she relates, “to bring the outdoors in.” She planted bougainvillea not only for its gorgeous hues, but for its thorns, which help serve as a burglar repellant. (She also has an alarm system.) “Since I’m in a brush area, I installed a sprinkler system, with fusible links on the roof,” she adds. “All of the rooms, except the baths, face the view.”

In addition to her work as an architect, Peggy is a prolific writer. She has contributed to a volume on contemporary architects, and has also written several books on witch doctors and their remedies, includingThe Sorcerer’s Guide to Good Health and The With Doctors’ Cookbook. The various folk remedies, rituals, and incantations practiced by traditional healers during Peggy’s travels to more than 230 countries. “It’s amazing to learn about the variety of herbs that work,” she says. “With the emphasis on alternative medicines these days, it’s interesting to find that these remedies are often better than traditional Western treatments.”

While planning for her nest exotic trip, Peggy is also very busy working on her next book, Winning from Rejection, a look at how a number of famous people triumphed over the rejections in their lives. “With all the challenges we face today, I think it is a very timely subject,” she says.