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Local Architect, Robert T. Coles to Publish a Book of His Works

Simply put, Robert T. Coles is a legend in Buffalo. Coles has had a prolific architecture career here having designed the JFK Recreation Center, the Merriweather Library, his own personal home and studio in Hamlin Park, and much more. He was also a voice in the wilderness during our urban renewal years, calling for a reasonable solution to downtown’s woes that didn’t include large amounts of demolition. Having warned back in 1963, Coles said, “In wandering these downtown neighborhoods, one sees much that could be saved; one wonders whether it might be better for Buffalo or any other city to rehabilitate what it already has to attract its former residents back to the city, rather than to build at tremendous cost new towers on the horizon in the midst of blight and deterioration.”

Now Robert is working to publish a book of his work and life and has started a Kickstarter effort to ensure it can hit the shelves of public libraries and universities in addition to building interest in it. There are only 12 days left in the fundraising and just a little over $1000 to reach the funding goal. You can get a copy of his book and support the effort by clicking here. Below is some additional information on Coles from the page.

This richly-illustrated book is a success story of inspiration and hope that carried Buffalo-born Robert Traynham Coles, the African American son of a postal worker, through a 50-year career as an architect. When a high school teacher sought to discourage him, telling him there were no opportunities for Negroes in architecture, Coles became determined to prove him wrong. His native ability and perseverance propelled him through a master’s degree from M.I.T. to opening his own firm in 1963 and leading to senior positions in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the AIA College of Fellows.

Coles battled racial discrimination throughout his career, leading him to commit to “an architecture of social conscience” and making his profession “look more like the society it has to serve.” His efforts won Coles numerous awards, including the AIA’s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Citation for service to the profession. He was the first AIA Vice-President for Minority Affairs, a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and the first African American Chancellor of the AIA’s College of Fellows.

Coles’ continual goal was to create more humane, inspiring urban spaces. His buildings ranged from small, residential structures to major, public, developments. Some, including his home, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, and his master’s thesis, the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Buffalo, have been described as gems of mid-century modern architecture. Other commissions ranged from transportation complexes, to schools, to municipal administration buildings.

Coles’ book, written in collaboration with historian friend William Siener and based on articles about his career, personal recollections and extensive records of his firm, documents his architectural legacy. A correspondingly important purpose is to continue his campaign to inspire more young minorities and women to follow a career in architecture.

Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

View All Articles by Mike Puma
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