“Adobe: From the Nile to the Rio Grande”: Slide Lecture with Simone Swan

Mon Mar 28, 2005

Simone Swan’s home near Presidio, on an isolated mesa with dramatic views of the desert and mountains, is her laboratory. Swan talked about her work as an advocate for sustainable building with earth, and about her mentor, Hassan Fathy.


Simone Swan has had a long and varied career in the arts and architecture. In the 1960s she established Withers Swan, a public relations agency in New York committed to public information on art, architecture, and the environment. Later, as founding director of the Menil Foundation, she supported work in energy conservation and alternative energy programs. In the 1970s Swan was inspired by the writings and work of the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy to take up the cause of sustainable building.

Reading Fathy’s Architecture for the Poor was a life-altering event for Swan, who left the Menil to apprentice with Fathy, in Egypt. She was particularly drawn to Fathy’s use of earthen materials and his interest in reviving indigenous building techniques for owner-built cooperative housing. In his ideas and methods, Swan found a profound solution to a world-wide need for low-cost housing.

In the late 1990s, Simone established the Adobe Alliance in the Big Bend area of West Texas in order to realize low-cost housing in the border region. After much local research on environmental climate and culture, she decided to target Presidio County, which has a 37% unemployment rate and only eight inches of rain per year. The Alliance has since constructed houses on both sides of the border that demonstrate the innovative use of earthen materials to create a new building standard for environmentally compatible, sustainable homes and communities.

Co-presented by Texas Folklife Resources. Texas Folklife Resources is a private, nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to celebrating and preserving the traditional arts and folklife of the Lone Star State. Hailed as, “one of the state’s true cultural treasures,” by the Austin American-Statesman, TFR has produced exhibitions, performances, community residences, educational programs, and media projects for twenty years