Luke Copping

Robert T. Coles, founder of his eponymous firm and noted for his activism and focus on racial diversity within the architecture community, has died at the age of 90. During a career spanning over half a century, Coles received several awards, including the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award and the AIA Edward C. Kemper Award.

Born in the summer of 1929, Coles grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. with three brothers. He received a B.Arch from the University of Minnesota in 1953 and a M.Arch from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955. In 1961, Coles joined the AIA, serving as its deputy vice president of minority affairs from 1974 to 1976. He founded his firm, Robert Traynham Coles, Architect, in 1963, making it the oldest African American-owned architecture firm in the Northeast. In 1981, he was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows, serving as its first African American chancellor in 1994. Coles also served as the first secretary for, and was a founding member of, the National Organization of Minority Architects.

courtesy Buffalo Arts Publishing

In addition to completing several celebrated projects in New York and across the East Coast, Coles published a memoir, Architecture + Advocacy (Buffalo Arts Publishing, 2016), reflecting on his career and the challenges he faced.

Coles is survived by his wife, Sylvia, his children, Darcy and Marion, and by several nieces and nephews.