Portrait of Katie Swenson

MASS Design Principal Katie Swenson on the Scarab

The designer and author explains the personal significance the scarab beetle bears for her and her family.

My house has a name given to it by its former inhabitant Katharine Lee Bates, Wellesley professor and author of “America the Beautiful,” in reverence to a giant beetle that spends its days cultivating and transporting a ball of animal dung, on which it feeds and lays eggs. The scarab, sacred to ancient Egyptians, is a symbol of rejuvenation and reincarnation. This seemed fitting when I moved into the Scarab in 2007, newly divorced, heartbroken, and raising three young daughters. This house would become the setting for our next chapter, a place that would influence our stories and shape who we would become—as great architecture has the power to do. 

My daughters have grown up and spread their wings, journeying through love, loss, and all that life brings. This year, I gifted them a scarab amulet designed by Ron Anderson and David Rees as part of the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room. The amulets were handcrafted in New York City, where I live most of the time now, and made of hand-painted recycled glass powder beads from Ghana. They carry with them the spirit of the Scarab. 

Katie Swenson is a senior principal of MASS Design Group, an international nonprofit architectural firm whose mission is to research, build, and advocate architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. Katie is the coauthor of Growing Urban Habitats: Seeking a New Housing Development Model and author of Design with Love: At Home in America, and In Bohemia: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Kindness, a story set in the Scarab. 

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