DENVER - Architect Patricia Swan’s life reflected the buildings she designed: a solid exterior made to weather environmental conditions and an interior that shelters the people and things that matter most.
Ms. Swan, who was born in Malden, Mass., helped shape the landscape of downtown Denver. She was the lead designer on Republic Plaza, Denver’s tallest office building, and many of the buildings she designed in the city and around the world as an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill still stand.
Ms. Swan died Jan. 23 of heart failure at age 87.
She earned her architectural degree from Columbia University in 1951 and entered the male-dominated profession in New York City when the glass ceiling was not only palpable but expected for women.
“In my naivete, when I started, I said, ‘Why aren’t there any women partners?’ Some man looks at me and says, ‘When hell freezes over, there will be a female partner at SOM,’ ’’ said Peggy Kinsey, a former colleague of Ms. Swan’s at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Denver office.
By 1970, Ms. Swan was an associate partner in the firm, and from 1978 to 1986 she was a key player in the expansion of the Denver office. She eventually became a senior associate partner.
“She went as high as she could under that glass ceiling,’’ Kinsey said. “She worked 30-plus years at SOM in key leadership roles but never really could step into the partnership. But it didn’t matter, because more and more women were coming into the company, and she was a great mentor to them.’’
The odds she faced made Ms. Swan develop a tough exterior and edgy professional persona.
“She could be pretty tough, but she had this gentle center,’’ Kinsey said.
Just as a building’s interior and exterior are clearly separated, so were Ms. Swan’s personal and public lives.
“She had this incredible job, and yet she kept it to herself a lot,’’ said her brother, William. “When she was in New York, Denver, or Winnipeg, she was right up there with anybody, but when she was home with us, she was low key and accessible.’’
“Pat was very quiet about things,’’ said her sister, Sandy. “I’ve never met someone so modest with so much reason not to be.’’