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Robert Trayham Coles

Born on 8-24-1929. He was born in Buffalo, New York. He is accomplished in the area of Business.
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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 the Hampton Institute (now 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 Batchelor of Arts in 1951 and a Batchelor of Architecture in 1953, both from the University of Minnesota. In 1955, he completed a Master of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

That same year, he won the Rotch Traveling Scholarship, awarded by the Boston Society of Architects and spent a year traveling in Europe. Coles began his architectural career in Boston in 1956 as a designer for the architectural firm of Perry, Shaw Hepburn and Dean. Following a year with this firm, he worked for two other Boston area firms, Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott (Architects) and Carl Koch and Associates. He also worked as an architect, custom design manager for Techbuilt, Inc. (housing prefabricators) before returning to Buffalo to design his M.I.T. graduate thesis, the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in the heart of Buffalo's Ellicott District as well as his award-winning Humboldt Parkway home in Hamlin Park.

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 (CPAC) 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.

In 1974-1976, he served as AIA's Deputy Vice President for Minority Affairs. In 1977, Medaille College awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree. Coles received the AIA's Whitney M. Young Jr. Citation in 1981 for his contributions to the cause of social justice in the profession. This citation is the 75,000 member AIA's second highest award. He was elevated to Fellow in the AIA that same year. In 1989, as the Langston Hughes Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Kansas, his inaugural lecture, Black Architects, An Endangered Species" was later published as a Guest Editorial in Progressive Architecture Magazine. Coles says this article is probably his most significant contribution to the field of architecture.

Between 1990 and 1995 Coles was an Associate Professor of Architecture at the Carnegie Mellon University. He has also held positions as visiting professor at University at Buffalo and the University at Kansas. He has served as a member of the jury for a number of projects including the U.S. Post Office National Design Competition; City Plaza National Design Competition in Lexington and State Association of Architects Design Awards, New York City.

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.

Coles has received numerous other awards including the AIA New York State Chapter in 2004 to recognize a lifetime of notable contributions by an architect to the profession. The work of his firm includes such major commissions as the Frank Reeves Municipal Center in Washington DC, the Ambulatory Care Project for Harlem Hospital, the Frank Sedita Middle School and the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library in Buffalo.

Mr. Coles was inducted into the Western New York Business Hall of Fame on November 1, 2018. The Buffalo History Museum hosts the Western New York Business Hall of Fame as a permanent exhibit.

Mr. Coles has been named the 2019 Edward C. Kemper awardee by the American Institutes of Architects. From the announcement of the award:

"Dedicated to addressing issues of diversity facing architecture, Robert Traynham Coles, FAIA, has leveraged education, activism, and mentorship to advance the profession for more than 50 years. The very definition of an activist architect, Coles has endeavored to build a model of inclusionary excellence at all levels of the AIA."


Mr. Coles is married to the former Sylvia R. Meyn and the couple has two children, Marion Brigette and Darcy Eliot.