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Gamma Tokyo

©François Lauginie

Gamma Tokyo, 1985

Nigel Coates
  • Architect (1949)

Nigel Coates is closer to the psycho-geographical research of the Situationists and the free associations of Archigram than to the erudite cynicism of post-modern architects. Since the early 1980s, he has championed an essentially moving and hectic architecture, that is like life. He considers the constructed space like an interface between body and place, irrigated by a host of at times contradictory flows. If the information society transforms daily life into spectacle, the architect must appropriate the present-day communicational overdose in order to encourage accident and encounter. In 1983 he founded the NATO group (Narrative Architecture TOday) with former students, as a reaction to the controversies stirred up by his teaching at the Architectural Association. The following year, in the guise of a manifesto, they presented the installation Gamma City at the Air Gallery (London): found objects, neo-Expressionist paintings, borrowings from urban culture, and a mixture of scholarly and popular references were put at the service of a “narrative” architecture describing the mosaic of forms and cultures typical of the contemporary world. The projects were presented by accumulations of objects conveying narratives waiting to be activated. Little by little, “electronics” and the new information technologies became his paradigm of reference for the production of a “software city” from the nightclub, regarded as the architectural model par excellence—festive, a place of every kind of interaction where architecture and event, construction and situations all merge—to the Internet, which had become the paragon of an open and multifacetted urban planning. Japan was the first country to offer him the possibility of building: in 1984, in Tokyo, he produced several interior designs and systems (Metropole, 1985; Caffè Bongo, 1986) . The following projects, particularly in the United Kingdom (Powerhouse::UK, London, 1998; Extension of the Geffrye Museum, Shoreditch, 1998; National Centre for Popular Music, Sheffield, 1999), all illustrated his evolution towards a greater minimalism tinged with a high-tech aesthetic, described by some as “industrial Baroque”.

The English architect and designer Nigel Coates studied at Nottingham University and then at the Architectural Association, where he became a professor in 1979. He produced several projects and exhibitions with the NATO group (ArkAlbion, Architectural Association, 1984) from which he would distance himself after receiving his first Japanese commission. The year 1985 saw the creation of the Branson-Coates agency with Doug Branson, whom he had met at the AA. They went their separate ways in 2006. Nigel Coates is the author of many experimental projects, regularly presented in installation form (Ecstacity, Architectural Association, London 1992; Ecstacity, Venice Biennale, 2000; Mixtacity, Tate Modern, 2007; Hypnerotosphere, Venice Biennale, 2008), as well as manifesto works (Guide to Ecstacity, 2003; Narrative Architecture, 2012). He is professor emeritus at the Royal College of Art in London where he headed the Architecture Department between 1995 and 2011.

Gilles Rion