Royston Summers


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The Independent Online

In 1969 Royston Summers went to the RIBA to collect his medal for Good Design in Housing from the Minister of Housing, Tony Benn. After the function he returned home and changed into jeans to go to collect his dole money. Meanwhile his wife was having trouble persuading the milkman that anyone living in such a spanking new house was entitled to free milk. Such are the vagaries of life in a small architectural practice.

Roy was born on 3 October 1931 in Wolverhampton and went to Wolverhampton Grammar School; his father was a butcher and farmer. After National Service in the Intelligence Corps in Germany (which involved espionage in East Germany, photographing Russian planes and being shot in the knee), he went to Downing College at Cambridge. The first of his family to go to university, Roy read classics for two years. He switched to English under Frank Leavis for his third year, graduating in 1954.

After an unsuccessful six months as a trainee with John Lewis – he was sacked for telling customers what they ought to like – Roy applied to the Architectural Association School of Architecture. After another five years as a student he joined the architectural department of Cornwall County Council as part of the team responsible for New County Hall in Truro (Grade 2 listed in 1997), designing a range of office furniture that later went into commercial production. His first solo job was a new library in Saltash.

In 1964 he set up his own practice in Blackheath, London. His first project to attract attention (and to win a Ministry of Housing and Local Government medal) was "North Several", innovative energy-efficient houses using passive solar heating designed with the aid of computers for a group of families, including his. Other housing schemes followed, notably the prestigious, low-density Lakeside Drive, in Esher, Surrey, which won the RIBA Architecture Award in 1976 and the DoE Medal and Diploma for Good Design in 1980.

Roy then worked for a time for Lambeth Borough Council, designing 52- storey tower blocks aimed at solving the horrendous housing problems in Brixton (an experience that formed the basis of Benefactors, the play written by his friend and North Several neighbour, Michael Frayn). The flats were never built. He completed a number of projects for the London Borough of Lewisham, including the first solar-heated council flats, at Redfern Road, which won a CIBS commendation for energy use in 1982.

Married in 1957 to Elizabeth Forster, Roy had four children, who survive him. As long as he was able he pursued his passions of mountaineering, walking, photography, and gardening. After a long illness he died peacefully on 30 May 2012 in Bristol.

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