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.
Robert Traynham Coles is a native of Buffalo, New York, who was born on August 24, 1929. Robert was one of four sons born to George Edward and Helena Vesta Traynham Coles. Coles attended Buffalo Public Schools graduating from Buffalo Technical High School. From 1947 to 1949, he attended Hampton University, where his parents graduated in the early 1900s. He transferred to the University of Minnesota where he completed his undergraduate work. He received a Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and a Bachelor of Architecture in 1953, both from the University of Minnesota. In 1955, he completed a Master of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He opened his own firm, Robert Traynham Coles, Architect, P.C. in 1963, which he has managed since that date. It is the oldest African-American owned architectural firm in New York State and the Northeast. In 1964, he brought Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Area Foundation (IAF) to Buffalo to organize the city's poor. In 1968, he was awarded the commission to design the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Complex at the University of Buffalo's Amherst Campus. In 1972, he started the Community Planning Assistance Center of Western New York a community design center to bring technical assistance to community groups who wanted to develop their neighborhoods but lacked the funds to pay for technical assistance. Coles has been involved in a number of civic, political and philanthropic activities including: council member of the Burchfield Art Center; Arts in American; Erie County Horizons Waterfront Commission, Board of Directors; Build a New City, Inc.; trustee, Preservation League New York State; trustee, Western New York Public Broadcasting Station. He has continued as an Honorary Trustee of the Western New York PBS since 1987. Mr. Coles has also served as a Fellow of the AIA on numerous committees and task forces, such as the National Housing Committee, National Urban Design and Planning Committee, Social Responsibility Committee. He is also a member of Alpha Kappa Mu, the National Organization of Minority Architects and has served as the treasurer and vice-president of that organization. Mr. Coles is married to the former Sylvia R. Meyn and the couple has two children, Marion Brigette and Darcy Eliot. William H. Siener was Executive Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society for 20 years. Prior to that, he was Curator of History at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, NY, and Executive Director of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, Wilkes-Barre, PA. On several occasions he has served as a consultant to the Organization of American States for museum projects in the Bahamas, and the Eastern Caribbean nation of St. Lucia. His articles and reviews have appeared in The William & Mary Quarterly, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, New York History and other journals. His research interests focus on the cross border relationship between Canada and the United States along the Niagara Frontier. Recent articles include "The Red Scare Revisited: Radicals and the Anti-Radical Movement in Buffalo, NY, 1919-1920" in New York History, "'A barricade of ships, guns, airplanes and men': Arming the Niagara Border, 1920-1930" in the American Review of Canadian Studies, and "Through the Back Door: Evading the Chinese Exclusion Act along the Niagara Frontier, 1900-1924" in the Journal of American Ethnic History. Siener has also done research to verify that masonry remains in Niagara Falls, NY are associated with Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad activities. Those findings were published in Western New York Heritage, magazine and Afro-Americans in New York Life and History in articles Siener co-authored with Thomas A. Chambers of Niagara University. He authored the entry for Buffalo in The Encyclopedia of New York State, and has written for Western New York Heritage magazine. He is a native of Niagara Falls, NY, and holds a BA from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, master's degrees from the University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill. and the University of Southampton, Southampton, England, and a PhD from the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA. Sylvia Coles lives in Buffalo, New York. She is the author of "Living With an Architect and Finding Myself," published in December, 2012. Her memoir chronicles her lifelong pursuit of her own identity and successes. From 1963 until 2012 she worked with her architect husband, assuming various roles throughout the years, from secretary to financial manager, and, finally, as a consultant. In 1985, she also taught marketing and management courses as an adjunct professor at Erie Community College's North Campus, in Williamsville, New York, and at the State University College in Buffalo, New York. From 1988 to 1991 she worked as an interviewer for NORC, a social science center at the University of Chicago. She received a Master in Business Administration in 1980 and a Master of Social Science, Interdisciplinary, with a focus on anthropology, in 1997, both from the State University of New York at Buffalo. A world traveler and avid photographer, she is a member of the Western New York Artists Group, Buffalo, New York, and the Buffalo Society of Artists. As a member of both organizations, since 1992 she has participated in group exhibits in venues including the Castellani Art Museum in Niagara Falls, New York and the Kenan Art Center in Lockport, New York. In the collection of various individuals, some of her photographs have also been donated to organizations including the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.