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Robert Swinburne

Architecture ’93

Proving Urban and Sustainable are not Mutually Exclusive

By Vallerie Malkin, Advancement & Publications Writer, Office of University Communications

Architect Robert Swinburne ’93 was committed to creating sustainable living spaces long before everyone else jumped on the “green” bandwagon, he says. The School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation graduate says he has always aimed to meet aesthetic and economic goals for projects while keeping them environmentally responsible.

“I consider myself to have been at the forefront of the movement,” says Swinburne, a resident of Brattleboro, Vt., who is happy that everyone seems to be embracing sustainable living.

Last May, Swinburne captured some attention for his work when he won the Providence, R.I., Sustainable Housing Design Competition in the “affordable” category. His design of a small home for a 40 x 80-foot city lot with a garage, front porch and back yard for gardening combined affordability and energy efficiency in an urban setting. The design is now on file in Providence for use by general contractors.

Swinburne’s journey to this point was neither circuitous nor straightforward, but somewhere in between. After finishing high school in Maine, he spent a year in art school but was unimpressed with the level of critique he received. In search of something more rigorous, Swinburne transferred to RWU.

“I was completely pleased with my education at the School of Architecture,” Swinburne says. “The structures and processes in place were really great, there was a good, wide range of instructors and we were getting visiting critics in from Boston and New York.”

After graduating in 1993, he spent six years building houses (“my version of grad school”) and worked as a carpenter and designer for a Brattleboro building firm until demand for his design services grew into a full-time business in 2000.

Swinburne still keeps in regular touch with his RWU classmates, many of whom went on to have successful careers in design. Now and then, they all take time from work and family to have a mini-reunion or attend an event, such as the SolarFest in Vermont. But most of the time, Swinburne is content to work from his home on a 48-acre spread that he shares with his wife, Rachelle Ackerman, and their two-year-old daughter.

And what do clients want these days when the economy is tumbling? “It’s all about lowenergy- use houses,” Swinburne says. “To avoid huge oil bills.” — Vallerie Malkin