2015 Work

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

Dear Friend:

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, in exchange and gratitude for assistance and hard labor. This restoration event is sudden because Fernando’s working visa, applied for from US Immigration in November 2014, was granted in late July 2015.

Beginning August 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.) All roof bricks are hand-made in Mexico. The Adobe Alliance stands on 500 acres of scenic fringe of the 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 built.

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.

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 plastered after vaults are corrected, any adobe friend may appear between August 10th and the end of September. I urge you to spread the news of this urgent appeal.

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 teach and to demonstrate affordable housing, biologically performative materialization, 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

Immediate until end of September.


cell 505 988 2828