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Tristen Graves
on behalf of the RRTN Digital Newsroom Team 
Robert R. Taylor Network, Inc.
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Robert Coles, architectArchitect Robert Coles calls it play, not work
By Tristen Graves
After years as a successful architect and advocate for the inclusion of more African-Americans in architecture, 80-year-old Robert T. Coles, a graduate of MIT, enjoys sailing his 25-foot sloop on Lake Erie off Buffalo, N.Y.
And at 80, he continues his work. After 27 years in downtown Buffalo, Coles moved operations in 2007 from the Ellicott Square office to a studio in his self-designed Buffalo home some three miles away.
"I go to play daily; its not work to me," Coles said.
He set up Robert Traynham Coles, Architecture, in his home town of Buffalo in 1963, eight years out of MIT. Since then, his firm has designed more than 100 buildings throughout the east coast worth more than a half-billion dollars.
"Behind my success is just plain stubbornness," Coles said. "I challenged those who believed I could not succeed and I would not take no for an answer."
Coles said he discovered a passion for architecture as a youth in a build-design course at Buffalo Technical High School. But some did not support his idea of becoming an architect.
"My teacher took me aside and told me that there were no opportunities for blacks in the field of architecture," he said.
But Coles went on to attend Hampton Institute in Virginia (now Hampton University) in 1947 and transferred to the University of Minnesota in 1949. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. In 1955, Coles received his Master of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I found something that I like to do at an early age, architecture, and pursued it with a passion," Coles writes in his autobiography, Going to Play and Not Work.
Coles firm is the oldest black-owned architectural firm in New York State and the northeast. McKissack & McKissack, established in 1922 in Nashville, is the oldest minority-owned professional design and construction firm in the U.S. 

As an architect,
Coles sp
ecializes in projects that provide positive influences to a community.
"I tend to look to the community to be served as opposed to building the greatest architectural monument. I am an advocate architect," Coles said. He received the American Institute of Architects' Whitney M. Young Jr. citation in 1981 for his contributions to social justice.
As a part of his efforts, Coles started the Community Planning Assistance Center of Western New York in 1972. The center was designed to bring assistance to community groups who wanted to develop their neighborhoods but lacked the funds, according to the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center.
Coles credits architects such as John Brent, Buffalo's first black architect, for paving the way for his success.
He was told that he was unable to practice architecture like the others. "His work meant so much to me," said Coles, who appreciated Brent's design of the 1928 Michigan Avenue YMCA in Buffalo. Coles credits the cultural center with providing a social experience in an all-black atmosphere, which he had not received growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood.
In an effort to encourage and mold more African-American architects, Coles has joined forces with L.P. Ciminelli, Inc., a Buffalo construction firm, to increase the numbers within the architectural profession. The proposal designed with Ciminelli in 2009, calls for increased diversity within the region's architectural firms. The plan says there are five licensed African-American architects out of 200 architects in western New York. In addition to increasing the numbers of blacks locally in the field, the program also plans to reach out to historically black colleges and universities.
Coles said he believes that black architects are few in number because of the quality of pre-university education.
"Students are not being exposed to knowing what architects do, in addition to the financial responsibility that comes with the cost of schooling," Coles said.
Winning a 1955 scholarship from the Boston Society of Architects allowed Coles to travel with his family some 10,000 miles to ten countries throughout Europe studying architecture.
He said his most satisfying job to date is the 2007 
The Coles-designed Merriweather public library in Buffalo, N.Y. has a circular-pod design with interconnected, mural-hung interior spaces intended to suggest an African village.  There are reading rooms, a public-access computer lab, 150-seat auditorium and an African motif in the block facade.  The 20,000-square-foot, $4.5-million branch library has an African-American resource room to house the largest reference collection of African-American materials in western New York.
Frank E. Merriweather Library - Robert Coles Merriweather Jr. library
in Buffalo, his most recent project.
"I have received a lot of compliments for this building, which has an African Village theme," Coles said.
The $4.5 million facility houses the largest reference collection of African American material in western New York. Other projects from Coles firm include the Frank Reeves Center for Municipal Affairs in Washington, D.C., the City of Buffalo Telecommunication Center, and the Ambulatory Care Project for Harlem Hospital in New York City.
He was the Langston Hughes professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Kansas in 1989 and, between 1990 and 1995, he was an associate professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University.
Coles is married to the former Sylvia Meyn, who is his business manager. They have two children, Marion Omgart and Darcy Coles.
Tristen Graves is a Richmond, Va.-area based writer. She is a graduate of Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

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