Simone Withers Swan

Executive / United States / The Adobe Alliance

Born in Antwerp to a mother from Belgium and father from Virginia, Simone Withers Swan grew up in New York, Connecticut, and France. She was educated at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and, in the Belgian Congo, within the Belgian state curriculum through her baccalaureate. At age twenty she studied drawing at the Art Students League of New York. She has lived in New York City; Los Angeles; Houston; Southold, Long Island; Cairo; Presidio, Texas; and Tucson, Arizona, and resides currently in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is writing her memoirs entitled The Very Rich Hours.

She was the inaugural executive vice president of the Menil Foundation, where she brought to fruition many of the programs and initiatives of John and Dominique de Menil. She was involved in the creation of the Rothko Chapel for the Menils and helped coordinate the studies undertaken by Louis I. Kahn for a new structure to house the Menil Collection. The project was terminated by the death of Kahn, following less than a year after the death of John de Menil. Swan was the last residential client of Kahn, with a project that was to have been located on Long Island and which remained in the schematic design phase at Kahn’s death. She later commissioned Charles Moore for the project, and the house designed by Moore, completed in 1976, has been frequently published. At age sixty, Swan enrolled as a Special Student at Yale University where she was allowed to select her own courses and was inspired by the lectures of Vincent Scully, Jr.

Swan became enamored of the Nubian vault-based adobe work and social precepts of renowned Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900–1989) and traveled to Cairo in order to study under his guidance. Inspired by his precedent, she acquired property in southwest Texas east of Presidio where she has since 1995 diligently worked on constructing a house and other structures along the Rio Grande. She has conducted construction workshops and lectured globally on this topic. The Adobe Alliance, which she founded, exists to further this educational and humanitarian effort. The 2006 book Simone Swan: Adobe Building by Dennis Dollens describes her ongoing passion and her remarkable life’s work.

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Daily Features
By Simone Withers Swan May 11, 2021

In conjunction with our celebration of Louis Kahn’s 120th birthday this year, we are honored to bring you the following very special recollections of Simone Swan, inaugural executive director of the Menil Foundation in Houston, where she helped coordinate the studies undertaken by Louis I. Kahn for a new structure to house the Menil Collection. She was also Kahn’s last residential client.

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