This Arizona architect and founder of Swaback Partners is the President of Cattletrack Arts and Preservation. “This nonprofit is based upon history, culture, fine art and design; it’s a small foundation that practices what it preaches- it truly connects us to what Arizona is all about.” The complex at CattleTrack includes galleries, a print shop, a dance studio, and spaces that are used by architects, artists, a blacksmith, ceramicists, and photographers.
Vernon is also the Vice President of StarShine Academy. This nonprofit creates transformational community schools by nurturing children in at-risk environments. He notes with pride, “We were recently honored with international accreditation. ”StarShine is a model for a new generation of schools designed around the idea of “Creative Communities,” which is the title of one of his five books. In related involvements, Vernon and his wife, Cille have set up award programs for architecture at Arizona State University and one for music at the Chatauqua Institution in New York.
The Harp Foundation also benefits from Swaback’s time and talents. “This group does extraordinary things, by providing therapeutic harp music to developmentally and physically handicapped children and other people with special needs. ”Since its inception, The Harp Foundation has provided over 10,000 hours of healing harp music to individuals and their families in the Greater Phoenix area and throughout Maricopa County.
"To experience the ancient sounds of the harp is to be blessed with a gift from the eternal. That a non-profit group exists to deliver blessings beyond the reach of words is something we’ve been privileged to support. If you are not already a contributor to the Harp Foundation, please know that its performers will magnify your gift many times over."
He continues, “My work with Center DOAR is a joy because the organization makes each dollar produce a ten-fold result. What distinguishes all the groups that I’m affiliated with is that they exemplify doing more with less.” Beatitudes Center DOAR is a non-profit organization that serves homebound elders and their caregivers, adults with disabilities, and grandparents raising grandchildren.
In January of 1957 Vernon Swaback left his architectural studies at the University of Illinois, coming to Arizona where he became Frank Lloyd Wright’s youngest apprentice. “I worked with him until his death two and half years later, after which I remained with the Wright organization until 1978. Fifteen years later, at the request of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, I returned to serve as its Chairman during a period of difficult transition. This is the 30th anniversary year of Swaback Partners, an award-winning, multidisciplinary firm of architects, planners and interior designers.
Asked to comment on his mentor, he said, “An amazing quality about Frank Lloyd Wright is that he kept reinventing himself. Right up to his death he was doing some of his most significant projects, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and the Marin County Government Center in California.” Asked if he patterned his work after Wright’s, his response was, “While I have never sought to imitate his work I have patterned my beliefs on his philosophy, which include a deep sense that, “All values are human values, or else they’re not valuable. And importantly, architecture deals with the relatedness of all things working together with purpose.”
Swaback believes, “Nature is the great teacher and architecture is a search for meaning. We continue to design for human values, which for the 21st century means that all pursuits will depend on maintaining a more holistic perspective. It is time to go beyond the world of design, to the design of the world. Everything must be approached with an understanding of the long cool view of nature.”
During his apprentice years Vernon spent his summers at Taliesin in Wisconsin, and his winters at Taliesin West in Arizona. “Frank Lloyd Wright predicted in the 1930’s that the desert southwest would one day become the playground of the nation. He saw Arizona as being one of the most creative places on the face of the earth. People really do feel a sense of that here. Our environment is so fresh and vibrant. Arizona is a healing place and an inspirational place providing an atmosphere of hope.”
Vernon Swaback summarizes his overall outlook: “I live my life in two worlds. As an architect what I do must make sense in the here and now, including the constraints of codes, ordinances and budgets. But for that to have meaning it must anticipate a second world, that which we are becoming, that which is yet to be. The wonderful thing about Arizona is that there are no social barriers, people can become as involved in as many enterprises and charitable endeavors as they wish. The culture of Arizona will always be one of innovation because it is uncommonly open. It conveys a welcoming spirit to any and all who chose to make it their home and to contribute their very best.”
What are your volunteer activities? President of Cattletrack Arts and Preservation, Vice President of Starshine Academy and volunteer activities for the Harp Foundation and Center DOAR (Developing Older Adult Resources).
Which social event is your favorite? Scottsdale HealthCare Honor Ball
Favorite Restaurant? Eddie V’s
Who is your hero and why? Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the world’s first ecological architect.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? Elizabeth Taylor
If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? Pierce Brosnan
What gives a woman/man style? Confidence. From jeans to black tie, dress with care, then go about your activities forgetting what you are wearing.
Do you have any pets? Two rescue dogs, Kelly and Ginger, and Missy our Abyssinian kitten.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner, about you? That we loved light and airy spaces, natural materials and daily reminders that we are part of the majesty of nature.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned through the years? Whatever you do, first learn, then never lose sight of its greater purpose and context.
What words would you like others to use to describe you Caring, comprehensive and creative.
What was your first job? Delivering flowers for a florist in Chicago.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Inauthentic behavior.
What is your greatest indulgence? Thinking in the abstract.
What is the greatest gift you have ever given or received? A belief in the beauty and truth of mystery.
What is your current state of mind? Seeing today’s problems as the inspiration for a future far richer than anything known to the past.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? I don’t think that way.
What is your most treasured possession? I have been blessed in so many ways, but when I think of treasures, they are all beyond anything that I can possess, for example, my beautiful wife Cille and our two amazing daughters.
What is the quality you most like in people? An authentic pursuit of all things beautiful.
Favorite books / writers? Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things, Creativity and Innovation and, On Dialogue
What is the best advice you have ever received? The years teach much that the days can never know.