The Work and Life of Wells Wintemute Coates, Architect-Engineer with specific reference to his early career, 1927 - 1934
'Wells Coates' by Elizabeth Darling
RIBA Historical Research Trust 2007
The funding provided by the RIBA Historical Trust enabled the undertaking of research which contributed substantially to the monograph, Wells Coates, published summer 2012.
This book offers a captivating and meticulously researched account of the work and life of Wells Coates (1895-1958), one of the most influential British Modernist architects.
Born in Japan to missionary parents from Canada, Coates studied engineering in Vancouver and London before deciding, thanks to his immersion in the bohemian circles of late-1920s Fitzrovia, that architecture was his passion. By 1929 he had won his first commission – the interior of the Cryséde silk store in Cambridge – a success that was soon followed by domestic interiors for the politician George Russell Strauss, and the actors, Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton, studios for the BBC’s new Broadcasting House, and three definitive blocks of flats: Lawn Road, Belsize Park (1934), Embassy Court, Brighton (1936) and Palace Gate, west London, (1937). He was prolific as an industrial designer, most notably for the electronics manufacturer Ekco for whom he created the classic circular Bakelite AD65 wireless. Coates was also a tireless champion of the Modernist cause and in 1933 co-founded the MARS (Modern Architectural Research) Group – a ‘think tank’ which worked to theorise British Modernism through programmes of research and exhibitions, and which established links to the leading European architects of the day in its role as the British chapter of CIAM.
The book charts Coates’s life from his earliest years, through to this most prolific decade in the 1930s, and the more difficult post-war period when a decline in commissions brought a halt to his flourishing career; although he did succeed in contributing the elegant Telekinema to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Following a period teaching at Harvard, Coates returned to his native Canada in the mid-1950s, where he worked on several planning projects before his early death in 1958.
'Wells Coates' is published as part of the Twentieth Century Architects series a joint venture among RIBA Publishing, English Heritage and The Twentieth Century Society. A particular feature of the book is its copious use of historical images, many of which are previously unpublished. It also includes specially commissioned colour photography by James O. Davies (English Heritage).
Elizabeth Darling is an architectural historian whose work focuses on re-thinking and re-mapping histories of modernist architecture in inter-war Britain. Her major revisionist study of this period, 'Re-forming Britain, Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction', (Routledge) was published in 2007. Her current research focuses on the work and life of Wells Coates, as well as a study of the arenas in which new ways of living and being were generated, often informed by alternative political, cultural and sexual identities, and their translation into built form. This work is exemplified in her 2011 article, "Finella, Mansfield Forbes, Raymond McGrath, and Modernist Architecture in Britain", 'Journal of British Studies', 50: 125–155.