Welcome to a Business

I visited a former coworker at his office my first days of relocating to Scottsdale.


Swaback Partners work was somewhat familiar to me reading online and in print. This trip I learned about founder Vernon Swaback’s connection to Frank Lloyd Wright, as his youngest apprentice in 1957. Also for many years, “Desert Excellence” has been in my library, a booklet extoling the desert landscape for various development forms, coauthored by Swaback and Steve Martino.

Their office building was formerly a residence, but Swaback converted it into offices for their firm and another design office or two. It’s off a major arterial street, yet when one enters their parking, the traffic bustle melts into a relaxed design hustle.



I’m told that Ten Eyck’s office designed the landscape seen here, though it looks different than much of their other work I know of.

This entry exemplifies bold yet relaxing. Once the colors of the Sonoran Desert spring disappear into summer’s burning rest period, this will become subtle.


Each door into the inward-facing offices is a work of art, using mass and graciousness.


The scale here is personal yet massive.


Some architects go overboard on massive to where their work becomes a cold fortress, devoid of life. Probably a reflection of their personalities! Here, the concrete seat walls, for example, have a nice reveal and shadow to them, and they work with the generous use of cacti. Yes, CACTI!

Of course, this grew in; I wish I could see the entire landscape when it was newly planted. It probably started as 1 and 5 gallons, even with key area placement of larger cacti and a specimen tree or two.

This feels like it belongs in the desert; it’s of the desert, not merely in it.


The plantings are informal, a style typical of Arizona. Though this manner of informal isn’t that common here or neighbor New Mexico, where the designer knows how to mass and direct views towards focal points, while being naturalistic.

So much landscaping has no focal point or massing, made illegible. Like flower gardens without any structure, missing entirely the models of what those classic gardens did long ago via hedges, borrowed views, sculpture, and evergreen plants used purposely.

Not here.

Justicia spigera / Mexican Honeysuckle (thanks Misti) Hamelia patens / Mexican Firebush? I dunno, I’m a Chihuahuan not a Sonoran… It’s a hummingbird plant, and with several hummingbird species that reside in the low desert even in winter, that’s important.



Ponds are not normally my thing, but this is. What helps? It uses well-placed boulders, a serene nature (no fake waterfalls!), and appropriate riparian plants like Muhlenbergia rigens / Deergrass.


In fact, plantings here were not an afterthought…score!

I wish more design offices paid attention to the site and landscape in their own facilities, not to mention their projects. Instead of feeling like a corporate sweatshop in tilt-up building hell, Swaback has a restful oasis to design and restore one’s creative nature.