Seven highlights from Nigel Coates’ extraordinary career
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Seven highlights from Nigel Coates’ extraordinary career

Self-described maverick architect and designer Nigel Coates launched his compelling autobiography Lives in Architecture on Wednesday 29th June at RIBA as part of their Pride season, highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ communities in architecture.

To mark both the book launch and Pride month, the Caro team pick seven highlights from his extraordinary career at the cutting edge of architecture, trading the intersection between bodies, sexuality, and form.

1. Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum), 1999

One of Nigel’s best-known and most enduring works is the extension of the Museum of the Home in Hoxton, east London (formerly known as the Geffrye Museum). Created in partnership with Doug Branson, the Branson Coates wing reinvigorated the museum, creating new spaces for their new 20th century room settings and ultimately tripling visitor numbers. Nigel calls it one of his proudest moments.

2. Body Zone, 2000

‘The only straight lines were the floor’

Nigel was part of a team of creatives tasked with making sure the Millennium Dome fit the bill of Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia cultural agenda of the late 1990s.

Nigel’s creation, an androgynous, half female, half male installation proved to be one of the most popular of the attractions within RSH+P’s Millennium Dome, leading to an invitation for Branson Coates to exhibit at the British Pavilion of the 2000 architecture Biennale in Venice.

Bodyzone at the Millennium Dome

3. London School of Architecture, ongoing

In 2015, Nigel was part of the team that founded London’s first independent architecture school for more than a century.

The London School of Architecture, now under the directorship of Neal Shasore, represents a new future for architectural education and has now welcomed its fifth cohort of students.

4. Sanctuary in Italy, ongoing

In the book, Nigel’s story begins in a post-war prefab in Malvern and continues from the Italian home he has restored with his partner, film-maker John Maybury. The house, in Tuscany, became a source of sanctuary and inspiration as the pandemic raged.

5. Memories of Zaha

From an early rivalry, came a lifelong friendship between Nigel and fellow AA Unit Master, Zaha Hadid, who he describes as ‘profound and multi-dimensional’.

He also recounts a fabled trip to the Soviet Union in 1983. Despite the disappearance of their luggage at the airport, Zaha managed to appear in a different Issey Miyake dress at every meal, leaving Nigel pondering how she had managed to fold so many into her handbag.

6. Memories of Clerkenwell

‘By the early noughties, there were more architects per square kilometre…than anywhere else in the world’

During the 80s and 90s architects and designers flocked to the streets of EC1V and EC1R, and Nigel remembers the arrival of studios of Zaha Hadid, Jasper Morrison, AHMM, Tony Fretton and muf as well, as well as that of ‘Caro Communications, the preferred mouthpiece for architects, sat nicely in the middle of this archi-village in Great Sutton Street’.

7. And of course, that iconic moustache…

Noted for his personal style, the immaculate moustache has been part of Nigel’s look for many years. On a 1970s trip to Florence, it won him the nickname ‘baffi’ from a young research student, Paola Navone. In 2017 it won him an invite to walk the runway for the SS 2017 DI Liborio show in Milan, ‘it was my moustache he wanted’.

Nigel’s event at RIBA is part of their programming series to mark Pride Month, 2022 – find out more.