2015 Work


Call for Restoration Volunteers to the Adobe Alliance in the Big Bend Country

Dear Friends:

Those keenly interested in working with the sustainable material of mud brick now are invited to the sudden opportunity to assist engineer Fernando Pina of Mexico to restore the fallen vault at Swan House & Lab, in Presidio, Texas, on the Rio Grande river (Rio Bravo in Mexican) which separates the US from Mexico. The session is free, and principally for those who wish to learn through hard work. Beginning October 10th Fernando will hand craft a Nubian vaulted roof measuring 23’ x 10’ in the 2000 sf house built in 1997 by Simone Swan, student of Dr. Hassan Fathy of Egypt (1900-1989) and her partner Maria Jesus Jimenez.   All roof bricks are hand-made in Mexico. The Adobe Alliance stands on 500 acres of scenic Chihuahuan desert in Big Bend country. Camping and hot showers (gratis) are available immediately, whereas the kitchen will be operating as soon as the vault is rebuilt.

Please call (505 988 2828) or email simoneswan@gmail.com, asap. Bring preferably passport to cross border at the bridge, or driver’s license. For every day bring drinking water, your dog, sun protection, a bucket, flashlight and camping material.

Directions: Take 67 south from Marfa, TX, 60 miles to Presidio, turn left onto paved farm road 170 east through the town (twice at sharp right angles). After passing Fort Leaton proceed for 4-5 miles until you reach sign for
unpaved Casa Piedra Road, turn left and Swan House is 1.5 miles up, alone on the right.

The house will be waterproofed after vaults are covered with a natural plaster developed by geological engineer Robert Kirby.

1. Help Save the Adobe-Vaulted Swan House


Since its traditional Nubian vaults took form on the Texas fringe of the Chihuahuan desert, the Swan House has represented a vision of earth architecture — affordable, graceful, and environmentally responsive. The house has served as an educational center where the transference of Hassan Fathy's architectural vision, modern while incorporating traditional climatically sound devices, was brought from his studio in Cairo to the borderlands of Texas (and the greater Southwest) by Simone Swan who apprenticed with him in Egypt. Swan’s vision is still to teach and to demonstrate affordable housing, community involvement, and educational potential rooted in the viability of earth-based organic construction. At the site, Swan's organization, Adobe Alliance, has based studios and workshops since 1997. Now, after the catastrophic storms and persistent rains of 2013 and 2014 the house needs your help and attention. Having suffered serious vault collapse it calls to an extended community of friends and professionals for help restoring, preserving, and re-activating it. -- Dennis Dollens, 2/28/2015.


2. Damage

Rainfall has quadrupled in intensity since 2013, during 2014 and part of 2015. When built in 1997-98, the house withstood average rainfall over 15 years of 10" per year. Consequently the house exterior was earth-plastered, with occasional patching and new plasters where and when needed. Damage due to climate change was not foreseen. 

3. Plan for Restoration


a). Community organization for support and volunteers.
b). Survey of damage and collateral damage.
c). Assessment with, by and on-site team in consultation with international experts and practitioners.
d). Formulate and test local earth for adobes, plaster and mortar composition.
e). Rebuilding of caved vaults.
f). Replastering of all roofs and walls to withstand rains, material to be determined.

4. Restorers, Volunteers, Helpers

Friends, admirers and former builders at Swan House please renew your relationship at this time in the house's physical rescue — we need builder-volunteers, financial aid, grant-writing assistance, and media and public relations contacts. For former students and apprentices if you know sources to tap for contributions or grants please contact us to coordinate approaches.

5. Friends of Adobe Alliance


Antonio Santos de Sousa, architect,Santa Fe NM
Margaret Santos de Sousa, architect, Santa Fe NM
Rick Joy, architect, Tucson AZ
Mauricio Rocha, architect, Mexico DF
J. Gibbs, Tucson architect
Roberto Carvajal, Chihuahua architect
Philipp Neher, Tucson
Wm Menking, NYC, editor of ArchNewspaper
Sissy Farenthold, attorney & board member, Houston
Salma Samar Damluji, London/Beirut
Gina Papanikola, architect, Athens & Addis Abeba
Andrew Vernooy, TX Tech architecture school, Lubbock
Chris Taylor, Texas Tech architecture school, Lubbock
Stephen Fox, critic, Houston
Claude Hayward, builder NM
Ana de la Rosa, architect Chihuahua city
Mark Gunderson, architect Fort Worth
Beverley Spears, architect Santa Fe.
Bob Vint, architect, Tucson

6. Time frame

October 10, 2015 until completion.


cell 505 988 2828