A beautifully crafted debut memoir about an award-winning African-American architect who broke through societal barriers and helped others do the same.
Written and compiled with the assistance of Siener (A Guide to Gloucester County, Virginia Historical Manuscripts, 1976) and Coles’ wife, Sylvia, this engaging account tells the story of a successful 50-year career and passion for social justice. Born in 1929, Coles was raised in the heart of Buffalo, New York. He attended the University of Minnesota as the sole African-American student in architecture and received his master’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Founding his architectural firm in 1963, Coles’ love of the city and its people is reflected in his work. For example, he designed the award-winning Joseph J. Kelly Gardens housing complex to complement the community’s existing cityscape. Meeting and working with community organizers—such as the Rev. Richard Prosser and Saul Alinsky—allowed Coles to combine his thirst for activism with the occupation he loved. Commissioned by Prosser, Coles designed Buffalo’s “Friendship House,” a local hub for social programs, activities, and a food pantry. Dedicated to helping more minorities become architects (Coles referred to black architects as an “endangered species”), he hired 30 African-American architects and interns from 1964 to 2004. In 1995, he became the first African-American chancellor of the American Institute of Architects. Coles’ smooth-flowing prose is a pleasure to peruse, and his voice is memorable. For example, when a teacher discouraged Coles from becoming an architect because “there were no Black architects,” the young design student refused to give up: “Undiscouraged, I resolved to be an architect and one of the best.” Adorned with a variety of color and black-and-white photos and some of Coles’ designs, this informative page-turner is suitable for both in-depth analysis or an afternoon of browsing. Some of the photos—like one with Coles and Saul Alinsky—are particularly intriguing. The book includes appendices for further exploration, such as articles written by Coles.
A multifaceted life story that will enthrall architecture and history buffs as well as scholars.