Branson Coates


In 1984, the English architect Nigel Coates came to the notice of the Japan-based Chinese entrepreneur, Shi Yu Chen. An intense collaboration between Chen and the Branson-Coates agency ensued, which would propel this latter to the forefront of the Japanese and then the international scene. The agency’s first project (Metropole, Tokyo, 1985) already showed what the agency’s architectural language would become: if the spirit of NATO (Narrative Architecture TOday) existed, especially in the mixture of cultures, styles and signs, as well as in the accumulation of design objects and found objects, Branson-Coates managed to instill their project with a certain decadent elegance. Most of their following works would, in their turn, adopt this subtle mixture between classical, modern and contemporary references, which marked a break with the “aesthetics of the garbage dump” of the NATO era. In no time at all, the many interior furnishing arrangements of shops and restaurants (Caffè Bongo, Tokyo, 1986) became a craze among the Japanese, who are especially sensitive to the marriage between the old and the new, as well as to the commercial scope of the architectural sign. In 1986, this success led the agency to produce interior systems for shops in the United Kingdom, and then several major architectural projects (powerhouse::UK, London, 1998; Body Zone, Millennium Dome, London, 1999). Well aware of the incorporation of architecture within its cultural and physical context, Branson-Coates abandoned the luxuriousness and eclecticism typical of their Japanese period when the agency returned to British territory: it alternated more sober projects, qualified by Coates as “baroque minimalism” (Conran’s Shop, London, 1986; Extension of the Geffrye Museum, Shoreditch, 1998), with others whose high-tech aesthetics laid claim to an “industrial baroque” style (Silver, London, 1987, National Centre for Popular Music, Sheffield, 1999).

The English architect and designer Nigel Coates studied at Nottingham University and then at the Architectural Association, where he became a professor in 1979. In 1983 he founded the group and magazine NATO (Narrative Architecture TOday) with former students. In 1985, in order to deal with the large number of Japanese commissions, Coates joined forces with the architect Doug Branson, whom he met during his studies at the Architectural Association in London, and with whom he had already collaborated in 1974 during the Greater London Council Housing Competition. They were subsequently joined by Anne Brooks, but all 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

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