Steven Groak, head of research and development at Ove Arup, died suddenly last week aged 54. He had only recently given the first Ted Happold Memorial lecture at the Royal Society of Arts.
Derek Sugden writes: We last saw Steven at the Wigmore Hall at the beginning of April to hear the penultimate concert in a Haydn series given by the Lindsay String Quartet. Steven's review of the Lindsays' performance was generous, analytical and objective, the qualities which he brought to bear in designing and making buildings. He joined us for a meal afterwards. We shared many interests and food and music were at the top of the list.
Jeremy Dixon had suggested a new restaurant in Great Portland Street which had received a rather glamorous review in the Guardian. The restaurant was besieged by young people, and the noise emanating from the open doors was hovering around 85-90dBA. Everything was exposed, brightly lit and looked like a set for a modern opera, where eventually everything was going to go horribly wrong. We quickly retired to Nico Central for an excellent meal where we could actually hear each other talk, allowing Steven to range over a wide number of subjects, developing ideas and views with his unusual blend of clarity and enthusiasm. The sequel to our excellent evening was a note from Steven enclosing an article from the Spectator with a devastating review of the restaurant we decided not to patronise. Steven's note read: 'The Right Wing suggests we did well not to Mash.'
I first met Steven in Arup Associates in 1969. He had read engineering at Oxford, joined Ove Arup & Partners in 1967, where he worked for a few months before working with an architect in Switzerland for two years. He spent a few months in Arup Associates working on Lion Yard & ibm Havant before going to the Bartlett to read architecture.
His abundance of nervous energy led him to work for organisations as disparate as British Steel and the United Nations before returning to the Bartlett to teach. Steven was at the Bartlett for 16 years and as a senior lecturer was mainly responsible for the building degree course. In 1989 the Building Centre Trust persuaded him to write a book to initiate a continuation of Fitzmaurice's The Principles of Modern Building. Published in 1992, it was, in style and content a book that only Steven could have written. Its writing signalled his return to Arup's and eventually to his position as the leader of Arup Research and Development.
It will not be the Bartlett days, the book nor his times at Arups I will cherish. A meal with Steven as host, chef and waiter are my favourite memories. The dinner well structured and cooked with loving care, good wine and coffee, followed by a wonderful selection of opera singers of the past. Great voices filtered through that old 78 'frying bacon' hiss, with an orchestra playing in the next room, and Steven excitedly announcing another soprano or tenor you had never heard of.