Robert Traynham Coles was an architect and advocate for racial equality. A native of Buffalo, New York, who was born on August 24, 1929, 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 had graduated from in the early 1900s. He transferred to the University of Minnesota where he completed his undergraduate work, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and a Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. 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. Coles is married to artist, writer, and arts patron Sylvia R. Coles (nee Meyn) and the couple has two children, Marion Brigette and Darcy Eliot.