Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Roy Hunter |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||Mid 1920s(?) |
|Died: || |
|Bio Notes: ||Roy Hunter spent his childhood living in a railway carriage in a field outside the village of Osbaldwick, Yorkshire. As he recalls: ‘We were friends of the earth but didn’t know it. For all that, it was very civilised in the sense that there was no crime, in the sense that there were a lot of social activities.’ His parents regularly left him alone to pursue their own activities, and he occupied at least some of his time by copying a picture of a sailing ship. Despite his parents’ alternative lifestyle, Hunter was sent to the village school, and he recalls the admiration of his classmates and teachers when, presented with a blank piece of paper, he produced an impressive representation of the ship. His ‘celebrity’ was short-lived, however, when it was revealed that he was not able to draw anything else to the same standard. He had a rebellious character from an early age; when playing with his Meccano set, which was added to every Christmas, he never completed a pattern according to the instructions, but would set out making a crane, for instance, and end up with a lift. |
At the end of his time at the village school, he attended what he describes as a ‘very Dickens kind of private school’ for a year or two before joining Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, where he spent the last three years of his schooling and made ‘the greatest friends, lasted all my life’. The subjects he most excelled in were Physics and Art. At this traditional grammar school, he ‘loved the discipline, which we could argue against ... I would want rules in order to break them’. On leaving school, he attempted to secure jobs with banks, insurance companies and the railway, but was not successful. His mother asked the headmaster at Archbishop Holgate’s what her son might become, and he suggested: ‘An architect.’ Through him, the young Hunter obtained a job in the York practice of John Stuart Syme, which had originated in the firm founded by the celebrated John Carr in the eighteenth century. ‘Dinky Dime’ – as the senior partner Syme was affectionately known by the staff – gave his employees a considerable amount of freedom. As the Second World War had begun by this time, Hunter and his colleagues were principally engaged on prisoner-of-war camps and suchlike, although Hunter fondly recalls one project to transform a Georgian house into a newspaper office, for which he was allowed to install a great ground-to-roof window.
After less than a year, he was called up for military service. Wishing to be a conscientious objector but realising that ‘only religious people got away with it, so to speak’, his first preference was for the Royal Air Force. He felt he wanted to be a navigator rather than a pilot, but then discovered that ‘those early navigators were always the ones who dropped the bombs as well, so I didn’t want to do that’; he also feared one of the physical tests he would have had to undergo, ‘which consisted of whirling you around at great speed’. He briefly served in a variety of roles – ‘boy scout, messenger, ARP warden, fireman, air cadet’ – before joining the Royal Engineers. An early observance of his skills as a draughtsman – which he puts down to ‘the artistic touch’ of drawing bullrushes in the foreground of an otherwise standard drawing of a Bailey bridge – resulted in him being called upon for numerous special tasks and being given charge of drawing offices in Italy (Naples) and Austria, with an assistant in each (one of whom went on to design Budapest airport). He also spent time in Africa, and he fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
After demobilisation, Hunter went to Leeds College, where he was able to gain exemption from the first year of the course on the strength of his portfolio. He was struck by the tutors’ detached nature: ‘they simply judged’ students’ work, without giving any constructive criticism. Hunter repeatedly failed assessments simply on the basis of his refusal to conform to the rule of stencilling a title on each drawing in Roman lettering. He did, however, win a scholarship to spend time studying architecture in Scandinavia.
On completion of the Leeds course, Hunter secured a position in the London County Council Architect’s Department. He found himself the token Yorkshire man, ‘peasantry’, among a host of ‘posh voices from the AA and London schools’, but he was made welcome and enjoyed socialising with his ‘very witty’ colleagues: ‘We went to all sorts of things, any hour of the day really. I learnt culture, so to speak. ... We didn’t drink, we didn’t smoke, no drugs ... we got a bottle of milk every lunchtime and took it out in the park. Can you imagine, getting a milk? ... And the Humphrey Lyttelton club, for example – only soft drinks. And we went to all sorts of foreign films. ... Of course those days were relaxed, just after the war. One used to have a leisurely breakfast in the corner house below, reading the papers. I mean that’s life – that’s how it should be ... but we did work late sometimes.’ Hunter worked on housing schemes in Roehampton, Stepney and Finsbury Park, and one of his principal design concerns was ‘to individualise each flat within a block’.
He did not see any of his LCC housing projects through to construction, as he left after three or four years, in the early 1950s, to work on the New Town of Stevenage. He designed the town’s main square, but was disappointed that his planned clock tower – with timber and flint, and intended ‘to appeal to all senses and memories’ – was not executed. However, Hunter admits that he is ‘not really interested in single buildings; I’m interested in the staging of living conditions ... I really have always strained to set the context’. After three years at Stevenage, an ideal opportunity presented itself when Cumbernauld was designated as a New Town in 1955. By that time Hunter was married, and his wife was happy to move to Scotland so that he could commence work on this ground-breaking new project when he secured a position on the Cumbernauld New Town Development Corporation.
At Cumbernauld, Hunter continued his efforts to introduce new ways of thinking and working. He was particularly insistent on the use of everyday language when discussing the needs of this and other projects, to break down the barriers between client/public and architect/engineering team. Despite living off-site – in a former coachman’s cottage ‘at the back of the Great Western’ in Glasgow – and so missing out on much of the socialising, he made a number of firm friends at Cumbernauld. These included Harry Eccles, Vas Benter(?) and Mike Evans, whom he describes as ‘wonderful, reliable people’ that he could trust to execute his designs faithfully, piecing together the ‘kind of LEGO kit of different accommodations’ that he had conceived. Never shy about expressing his opinions, Hunter remembers Hugh Wilson, Cumbernauld’s chief architect, showing remarkable support, tolerance and restraint; ‘he didn’t draw anything which I couldn’t forget.’ He acknowledges in retrospect: ‘I’ve been very insensitive a lot of the time to those above me, regarding them rather as the enemy instead of as a friend. Now I realise how wrong I’ve been. ... They do need encouragement as well.’
He spent longer at Cumbernauld than he did anywhere else in his career – a total of at least ten years. By the end of this period Cumbernauld was nearly complete, and he left for a post at the Ministry of Public Building and Works. During his first 18 months working there, he focused on projects in the north of England. He was then invited to be one of the directors of the new Department of the Environment, into which the Ministry was absorbed in 1970; Hugh Wilson acted as a consultant, and may have been instrumental in his appointment. A related research trip to examine recent developments took Hunter to Sweden, Finland and Denmark, where he saw housing that appeared to achieve its aim of social levelling: ‘you can’t distinguish the rich from the poor.’ He was delighted to have the opportunity to dine with Alvar Aalto, then in his late seventies. The two agreed that the eminent Finnish architect’s finest building was the Viipuri Library, and Aalto confessed to a wish that he had not ‘wasted time designing spoons and kettles and chairs and whatever’; but Hunter replied: ‘You know, you wouldn’t have been so good if you hadn’t!’ Inspiration gleaned from this visit was put to work in projects such as the Deeplish Study on possible housing improvements in Rochdale, of which Hunter was in charge, and in the subsequent Tayside Regional Study, on which he collaborated with Derek Lyddon.
The last move of Hunter’s career was into teaching – at Strathclyde University. He had an innovative approach, telling students that most of what they learnt was irrelevant. Instead, he proposed that ‘learning by doing’ was the answer, and proceeded to use ‘design games’ to develop ideas through ‘social decision making’. This approach was opposed by other academics, but very popular among students. He also encouraged audience participation at the end of lectures, asking those listening what they thought of what he had said, and then summing up after comments had been made.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Osbaldwick, Yorkshire, England||Private||Mid 1920s|| ||Place of birth|
|London, England|| ||c. 1948||c. 1952||Working for LCC|
|Leeds, Yorkshire, England||Private||Late 1940s|| ||At Leeds College|
|Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England||Business||c. 1952||c. 1955|| |
|Glasgow, Scotland||Private||c. 1955||1960s||Whilst working for Cumbernauld New Town Development Corporation|
Employment and Training
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Glendinning, Miles||1997||Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75 || ||Tuckwell Press Ltd||p34 Display panel for Seafar I|
p170-1 Cumbernauld Original Housing Areas
|Miles Glendinning, Diane Watters, David Whitham|| ||Docomomo Scotland Leaflet|| || ||p229 image of Seafar 2|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Courtesy of Roy Hunter||Interview of Roy Hunter by Jessica Taylor, 18 November 2009|| || |