“I think there was only Derek Cobb and Michael Blee who designed a building other than Jack [Bonnington] and myself. We were the only people I think who were designing at that time. At Southampton Bonnington was responsible for designing most of the buildings as Spence was too busy to design them all himself. Jack was very much a sort of ‘get out of my way’ person, and I suspect that Basil was a bit scared of him. Whereas I always had a lot of time for Basil, and I think he felt that. After Rock left, Gordon Collins took over his role as job runner. Basil actually controlled his workload, if he didn’t/couldn’t get involved, he didn’t get involved. You know; he wouldn’t hover on the edges of things other than if he had to go to a major clients meeting like the Senate he’d do it, but feeling that he shouldn’t.”
In December 1957 Rock worked on a physics building on a major site right off the Haymarket in Newcastle, developing Basil’s first small-scale scheme as always. Spence had gone up to Newcastle and got it agreed to by the university and then took it up to Edinburgh in drawings. “Months and months later they had actually finished, virtually finished, the working drawings, so it must have been six or seven months later. He brought back this huge bundle of drawings, all rolled up bundle of drawings, and said ‘David, could you clean this up?’, and I looked at it and the Edinburgh office had really, really gone awry. It was all tiny details and messy windows, there was about five opening lights per window and all sorts of things. So I spent some time just redrawing, putting tracing paper on top of all the elevations and some of the plans and changing it. I mean this was after all the working drawings had virtually been finished! Which I had to do all over again. And Basil then took them back. I never spoke to anyone in Edinburgh, I must say, I just redrew and redesigned the building. Getting it back almost to what it was before it went up there, having missed out of six or seven months of them negotiating with the clients . . .The job architect up there, Charlie Robertson, came down to London to work with me on the changes and what was possible; and we became very friendly.”
Rock’s next job was a church in Manchester in December 1957, straight after the Newcastle Physics building. Spence had done a sketch scheme but there were problems but asked Rock to complete a perspective. Rock did this one afternoon then Spence came down from his office saying “Oh David, David, there’s not enough light!” Although the client had initially objected to having windows on the west wall, Spence had persuaded them to allow it to be completely glazed from the west, allowing enough light into the church, but very few windows elsewhere. Rock had not been informed of the client’s worry about light, however, so he took a razor blade and scratched bits out, lightened up his whole sketch and brought up some of the details.
One small job which Rock was given in 1958 was to create a reception area with a Tristram Hillier mural for Holland, Hannen & Cubitts’ Queen Anne’s Gate office. After Rock left the practice he was personally asked to work on a basement restaurant scheme by the same client. Between 1958 and 1959 he took on this project by himself in a period when he was working more for himself and increasingly less for Spence. “I really almost regret it that I didn’t stay there longer, I very much regret it, because the former tutor of mine at college, Bruce Alsop, who is a quite well known historian . . . had a lot of time for me in a shy way. Anyhow, he had been on a cruise or something in ‘58, and had met the person who was going to become the managing director of Bumpus bookshop . . .he was wanting a new shop in Baker Street and Alsop recommended me even though he hadn’t seen me in seven years. . . . And so this chap Goodwin . . .got in touch and said that he hadn’t been made MD yet but he was going to and could I actually do this shop for him on Baker Street, Bumpus. So I went to Basil and said I’ve got this building and well I ( it’s funny this really), I said first of all I was wondering whether (I will have been all of 28 then), I was wondering whether you were going to make me a partner, and he huffed and puffed with embarrassment and looked down at his feet, ‘ I wasn’t thinking David of having any more partners just yet’. ‘Well, I’ve got this . . . scheme for a building and I think it’s too small’, so I didn’t think of bringing it into the office actually, I would have done now, ‘and I want to do it’, and so I told him what it was, he said ‘That’s much too small David for you to exist on, why don’t you just sort of keep on working for us, take whatever time you want and you come in when you want’. Mind you, I was running two jobs in the office by that time, so it was self preservation, but it was all him being nice, mainly him being nice. So I went off and did this, built this shop.”
Spence let Rock go ahead and take on a project for the restaurant at Holland, Hannen and Cubbits as he was “very generous like that”. After this Spence passed him a few jobs, one was to Sir William Hutchison for his house at Richmond. Spence rang Rock up and said “you’ve got to look after him; I’ve already done two jobs for him.”
Spence’s sketches for the Biological Sciences building in Nottingham was “much rougher than usual, not even a perspective.” As a result, Rock was asked to draw them up to 1/16th and 1/8 scale. Peter Howard took it to completion after working with him at Canonbury. “This was very common, you know, that’s what happened, they came and worked with me and then went back with the job to the Queen Anne Street office, and then I became a consultant if you like, from Canonbury.”
The project which followed this was the Fellows [and undergraduates] Setts building [Erasmus Building] at Queens College, Cambridge. Spence had done sketch plans to present to the client, but as they were not particularly happy with them he asked Rock to do some perspectives. He did these “almost Coventry in style” and they were published in Building magazine. “He would do elevations, like of this, and then I would do the other elevations he hadn’t drawn, often they were different.” The design, however, was turned down and Spence was asked to redesign it. The client thought that the proposed windows were not big enough and that there were not enough of them.
Much later, Basil and Rock went up to Queens to the presentation of the estimates, where the three quotations from builders were revealed to the architects and clients. Beforehand, Reynolds and Young, the Quantity Surveyors used by the firm, had actually done a rough costing of the Bill of Quantities and Basil said to the client body “I’ve got the figures wrong, it’s not going to be £300,000, it’s going to be £30,000 over.” The firm had quickly made a list of savings which could be made, for example narrowing down afromosia skirting by an inch. When Basil entered the meeting, he apologised for the mix up in costing and informed the client that they had made a whole series of savings to bring the estimate back into budget. As it turned out, however, all three independent quotes were under £290,000 instead. On the way back to London Rock said in passing that he would incorporate the savings which the client were demanding, having heard they were possible, but Spence turned round and said “no, no, they had no right, just ignore it’, so the alterations were never made and nobody ever noticed. Basil had a real presence, it became one of his techniques, he had lot of these little things. For instance, always go into a meeting, a big meeting, just a little late, just a couple of minutes, no more than 5 minutes, that’s too long. To do this we would actually go down a corridor before we went in, and quite often before he would go into a Senate or a high powered meeting, they would all be sitting there dead on time, and we would come in a little late, and they would all stand up, you know, he actually had this presence and he was just playing for that. So he was very much in, you know, this game of being in charge, because he had this presence, and that business of ‘forget about, they had no right’ was typical, sort of old fashioned if you like.”
In April 1958, the Tower Theatre, Canonbury approached Spence to ask if he could do something for free for them, so he suggested an extension on the side of the building. Rock did a perspective and plans for them before the project was taken into the Theatre’s hands. The extension was built following the design, but was crudely done.
Between 1953 and 1955, while Rock was in the army his drawing office in Germany would simply sketch designs of buildings and hand them over to German architects. During this time Rock was responsible for a primary school which was one of the first buildings he personally saw completed. In 1954 he also worked on a comprehensive school up in Münster.
For the Coronation decorations at Coventry Cathedral, Rock was asked to create decorations for the ceremony with very little time and money. He decided to get huge crowns and symbols of royalty made out of cheap cane. They were 15 foot across and 10 foot high and were strung across the old nave at the cathedral.
Basil Spence and John Hutton worked together as architect and mural painter for the Society of Mural Painter’s RIBA exhibition in 1953. The scheme that they picked to work on was one for the interior of an office building. Rock designed an interior with a mezzanine and interesting views throughout. On one side of the room was a mural with nine full height muses by John Hutton. David Rock went to his office in North London, where he was given a sketch of three muses so he could start on the perspective and was told that he would be given the other six later. Hutton, however, never came up with the other six in time for the exhibition, so Rock simply made them up in Hutton’s style. Many years later a book was written about John Hutton where the author mistook the six muses that Rock had created for Hutton’s own work, arguing that the six muses sketch had been mislaid over time! At the opening of the exhibition, however, there was a lot of embarrassment as Hutton had motioned Rock into a group and introduced him to his model Marigold, whom Rock had only met in her dressing gown when he collected Hutton’s sketches. After a few seconds of confusion Rock said “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on!”
Projects like the Gorbals and Trawsfynydd were done by other people, “although nobody would ever say so’. I am pretty sure the tower block in Hyde Park, the Barracks, was not done by Basil, that was Antony.”