Fonds Wells Coates
The Wells Coates Fonds, 1909-1986, documents the professional career and personal life of architect Wells Wintemute Coates.
Materials found in this fonds are extensive, ranging from Coates’s earliest diaries written in 1909, to reviews and articles published about his architectural works after his death in 1958.
This fonds contains a comprehensive collection of photographs that reflect Coates’s professional career, military service, and personal life. This collection consists of photographs of architectural drawings, architectural models, construction sites, industrial designs, and the interior and exterior views of completed buildings. Personal photographs of Coates’s family and friends and war photographs taken during his military service are also included in this collection. The 530 drawings comprise of original sketches, working drawings, blueprints and dyeline prints of Coates’s various architectural works.
Textual records consist of Coates’s published writings, unpublished manuscripts, lectures, and broadcasts as well as professional correspondence and press cuttings. Personal documents in this fonds include diaries, private letters, certificates, and passports. Additionally, this collection contains architectural books that Coates personally owned as well as various publications, lectures and exhibitions that were published about Coates’s work and the Modern Architectural Movement.
The objects in this archive comprise of a World War I medal, an OBE medal, Royal Air Force buttons and personal keys.
The materials in this archive were organized by subject in 1987 by Wells Coates's daughter. The CCA has maintained the original order of these materials.
Architect, urban planner and industrial designer Wells Wintemute Coates was born on December 17, 1895 in Tokyo, Japan to Canadian Methodist Missionaries, Harper (1865-1934) and Agnes Coates (1864-1945). In 1913, the Coates family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he enrolled in a joint BA and BSc engineering program at the University of British Columbia. In 1916, Coates postponed his studies and joined the war effort as part of the Second Division of Canadian Gunners (1917) and then trained as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (1918).
From 1919-1922, Coates returned to Canada and completed his BA and BSc with honours; in 1924, he completed a doctorate in engineering at the University of London. Coates worked for some time as a journalist at the Daily Express where he was first introduced to British modernism and the avant-garde in London; this modernist influence would have a profound effect on his architectural designs later on. He married Marion Grove in 1927 and they had one daughter together.
Wells Coates’s architectural designs, writings, lectures, and group activities have made him a leading figure of the British Modern Movement. Coates began his architectural career in 1928 when he established a private design practice in London. From 1930-1932, he was commissioned to design the headquarters and retail shops of Cresta Silks. The success of these modernist-inspired shops launched his career as they were widely reported and praised in the architectural press, such as the Architectural Review and the American publication, Architectural Record. In 1933, Coates co-founded the international group MARS (Modern Architectural Research), an English division of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne. The primary aim of the Mars Group was to advance the principles and practice of British modern architecture through theory, research, public lectures and exhibitions.
Coates’s most notable English projects include the BBC studios (1932) the interior design of the Kensington Palace Gardens (1933), the redesign of the a permanent stage set for the Old Vic Theatre (1933), the Lawn Road Flats (1934), the Sunspan Houses (1934- 1936), the Embassy Court Flats (1935), Shipwrights (1937), the Palace Gate Flats (1939), the AIROH Aluminum Bungalows (also built in Wales) (1945-1948), and the Telecinema (1952). Presently, most of Coates’s built projects have been destroyed or drastically altered. Three of his major built projects survive to this day: the Lawn Road Flats, his most well-known building to date, the Palace Gate Flats and the Embassy Court Flats.
Coates was also a prominent industrial and product designer; he designed numerous bestselling products, such as the AD 65 Wireless Radio (1934), for E.K Cole Ltd. Other designs include bow handles and tubular steel furniture (1928-1929), a radiogram cabinet (1933), the Electric Radiant Fire (1934), the “Thermovent” Electric Heater (1937), a combined Television-radio set (1946), a16 ft Wingsail Catamaran (1946), the A33 Radiotime clock-radio (1947), the P63 Princess Portable Battery radio (1948), and various clocks for the South Bank Exhibition (1951).
In 1956, Coates moved back to Vancouver where he passed away on June 17, 1958. In Canada, Coates was involved in designing several unexecuted Canadian architectural projects– the Iroquois New Town Project (1952-1954), the Toronto Island Redevelopment Project (1957), and Project 58 (1956-1958), an urban redevelopment scheme for Vancouver.
Prior to transfer, the Wells Coates Fonds was housed at the home of a RIBA librarian in England. The fonds was then stored at London's Architectural Association School of Architecture. In 1979, an exhibition of Coates's work was mounted at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, subsequently travelling to over 20 galleries and colleges.
The Canadian Centre for Architecture purchased the Wells Coates fonds in 1988. The fonds was transferred from England to the CCA in 1989.
Vancouver British Columbia Canada
When citing the collection as a whole, use the following citation:
Wells Coates fonds
Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal
When citing specific collection material, please refer to the object’s specific credit line.
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