Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Wim Swaan photograph collection
Date (inclusive): 1951-1995
60 Linear Feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
A comprehensive collection of
approximately 48,000 photographic prints, transparencies, slides and negatives in
black-and-white and color by a self-taught photographer and practicing architect who
traveled widely, documenting the art, architecture, and landscape of the Middle East,
Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Western United States. Also included are a small
quantity of correspondence with publishers, agents, colleagues and friends, sales accounts,
a manuscript, research notes, and a copy of his master's thesis.
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Language: Collection material is in
1927: Born Willem Albertus Swaan September 6 in Kokstad, South Africa.
1950: Bachelor of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
1950-1951: Travelled in Europe and Egypt. Worked for Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in London on
the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
1952-1960: Returned to South Africa. Worked for Andrews and Niegeman in Cape Town. Moved to
H. H. Le Roith and Partners, Johannesburg, first as an employee, later as partner in charge
of design. Projects: apartment buildings, schools, industrial and commercial buildings.
1958: Master of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Thesis:
"Low-cost housing: a survey of economic and sub-economic housing for the lower-income groups
with special reference to housing European families with children in South Africa," written
while Swaan worked as a full-time architect for Le Roith and Partners. Later attended the
Yale School of Organization and Management and the Harvard University Graduate School of
1959-1960: Studied Zen Buddhism and researched Japanese architecture and landscape design
at Chotokuin Zen Temple, Kyoto.
1960: Emigrated to London.
1961: Traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, Iran and the Middle East.
1963: Moved to the United States.
1963-1966: Joined Perkins and Will Architects, New York.
1966: Became a United States citizen.
1966-1968: Sabbatical in Europe.
1971-1972: Eighteen-month tour of Europe.
1972-1981: Partner at Perkins and Will.
1975-1981: Vice President at Perkins and Will.
1979: Elek Books Ltd. sold to Granada Publishing. Published only one other book after this
1981: Director of Health Facilities Planning in Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum's New York
office. Oversaw the new Veterans Administration Hospital, Manhattan, addition, and other
large health facilities located throughout the United States.
1990: Received a special citation from the American Institute of Architects for
distinguished achievement as a historian and photographer of the art and architecture
created by diverse cultures throughout the world.
1994: Retired as Director of Design at Architecture for Health, Science and Commerce,
1995: Died October 1 of pulmonary fibrosis.
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Wim Swaan photograph collection, 1951-1995, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute,
Accession no. 96.P.21
Gift of the Willem A. Swaan Estate, received 1996. One binder of images of Latin American
sites received in 1999. One box of images of Latin American sites received in 2000.
Lynda Bunting processed the collection and created the finding aid in 1998. Alina Sinetos
reprocessed portions of the collection and revised the finding aid in 2015.
The following books were transferred to the library: Nims, C.F.
. London: Elek Books Limited, 1965.
Lost Cities of Asia: Ceylon, Pagan, Angkor. London: Elek Books Limited,
Tibet. London: Elek Books Limited,
Cities of Mughul India: Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur
. London: Elek Books Limited, 1968.
Castles of Europe: From Charlemagne to the Renaissance. London: Elek
Books Limited, 1970.
The Late Middle Ages.
London: Elek Books Limited, 1977 (2 copies).
the Hellenistic Age
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Brooke, Christopher and Roger Highfield.
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Scope and Content of Collection
A comprehensive collection of photographs, approximately 34,450 black-and-white negatives,
contact prints and enlargements and approximately 13,450 color transparencies, slides and
prints by a self-taught photographer and practicing architect who traveled widely and
published many large-format books devoted to the art and architecture of various cultures.
Included are a small quantity of correspondence with publishers, agents, colleagues and
friends, sales statements, research notes, a manuscript, and a copy of his master's
Most images, taken in situ between 1951-1995, reflect Swaan's interest in facades,
architectural details and decoration. Main concentrations include Gothic, Medieval, Baroque
and Renaissance Europe, Islamic Spain and Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Iran, Ancient Egypt and
Greece, Asia, including India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Cambodia and Sri Lanka,
Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin America, and the landscape of the American West.
The collection is arranged in three series: ; ; .Series I. Book projects, 1963-1995
Series II. Other
Series III. Papers, 1958-1995
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Subjects - Topics
Decoration and ornament, Architectural
Medici, House of
Mayas -- Antiquities
Monasteries -- Europe
Landscape photography -- West (U.S.)
Extinct cities -- Mexico
Extinct cities -- Asia, Southeastern
Hundred Years War, 1339-1453
Decoration and ornament, Islamic
Architecture -- Pictorial works
Architecture -- Europe
Architecture -- Byzantine -- Istanbul
Architecture -- Middle East
Architecture -- Latin America
Architecture -- Asia
Acropolis (Athens, Greece)
Architecture, Gothic -- Europe
Cathedrals -- Europe
Castles -- Europe
Subjects - Places
Copán Site (Honduras)
Tikal Site (Guatamala)
Tiwanaku Site (Bolivia)
Mecca (Saudi Arabia)
Persepolis (Iran) -- Antiquities
Nepal -- Antiquities
Thebes (Egypt : Extinct city)
Susa (Extinct city) -- Antiquities
South Africa -- Pictorial works
San Agustín (Huila, Columbia) -- Antiquities
Tibet (China) -- Antiquities
Japan -- Social life and customs
Istanbul (Turkey) -- Antiquities
Machu Picchu Site (Peru)
Europe -- Pictorial works
Asia -- Antiquities
Genres and Forms of Material
Gelatin silver prints
Diffusion transfer prints
Black-and-white prints (photographs)