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© Copyright 2017 by MP Media, LLC

Protégé 

PROFILE

FAST FACTS:

• Registered architect 

in 15 states 

• Inducted into 

the College of 
Fellows by both the 
American Institute 
of Architects & the 
American Institute 
of Certified Planners 

• Had been an 

apprentice for just 
over 2 years when 
FLW died (April 9, 
1959), and much 
later served as the 
FLW Foundation’s 
CEO and Chairman

Life at Taliesin

The humble and nature-themed communities at Taliesin and Taliesin 
West were said to have such a feeling of collaboration and intellectual 
connectivity that Swaback expressed feelings of anxiety when later 
driving through the comparatively isolated cities in the Midwest. 

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Swaback’s holistic views on sustainability were formed during that time 
spent with the “Taliesin Fellows,” where they experienced an unmatched 
feeling of connection to nature while sleeping in tents and working on 
the actual structure during the day. 

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 “I won’t live as sustainably as 

that ever again. We didn’t have low-E glass or solar panels or any of 
the other bells and whistles,” he says. “Some people would think of it 
as a hardship (sleeping in a tent), but I’d enjoy walking out under the 
stars with the fresh air blowing over me.” 

///

 After FLW’s death, Swaback 

remained at Taliesin’s Wright Foundation as its Director of Planning 
and former Chairman for 21 years before founding Vernon Swaback 
Associates in 1978, when he was 38 years old. 

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 “When I left [Taliesin], 

I had no money and was working as a one-man shop,” Swaback admits. 

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 By 1999, he partnered with long-term associates, John E. Sather and 

Jon C. Bernhard to create what stands as Swaback Partners and Studio 
V Interior Design.

 

Swaback Partners

Swaback Partners is recognized today for designing breath-taking 
luxury homes in Scottsdale, Sedona and Paradise Valley, and in areas 
of California, Utah, Texas, Connecticut, and New York City. The firm 
is responsible for some of the most significant planning projects in 
Arizona’s history, including Arizona Biltmore Estates, DC Ranch, and 
other highly-regarded communities.

Perhaps Swaback’s most proud project is his personal family residence he 
named “Skyfire” for its intention to be a celebration of the atmospheric 
effects of the desert.  A guiding principle in the design was that he wanted 
to feel somewhat exposed and vulnerable to the elements, similar to that 
of the fabric canopy tents in Taliesin West decades prior. 

///

 “When it 

rains I hear the same drum-like sounds the way I did at Taliesin West. 
It’s my evolution of the tent.” 

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 More uncommonly used yet intentional 

materials at Skyfire are scoria or volcanic ash; 12-inch-thick walls and 
concrete floors; and gardens and interiors with sculptures and murals 
from artifacts, which are offered as custom features of the houses and 
buildings designed for Swaback Partners clients today.  

Just two years ago, Swaback joined forces with luxury home developer, 
Garth Wieger to create an exclusive 12-lot enclave in the Phoenix 
mountains near Lincoln Drive and 40th Street, which will have homes 
ranging from $6 million-$15 million. 

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 Also impressively, the firm has 

recently collaborated with the Navajo Housing Authority, in a 19 million 
acre project involving the planning of five Navajo agencies (equivalent to 
American states); 24 regions (equivalent to counties); and 110 chapters, 
(equivalent to cities and towns). Swaback and his team have held 
individual meetings in more than 110 places all over the Navajo Nation. 

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 As we celebrate the 150 years of Frank Lloyd Wright this year, some 

of his prominent Taliesin Fellows, including Vern Swaback, have proven 
through their success and heightened relevancy that his mentorship 
lives on today. Even as the buildings will one day crumble, his legacy 
will never die.