Walter Segal (1907-1985) was an architect who is well-known for designing a self-build housing system based on a timber frame construction. Designed initially as a temporary and cheap housing solution for his family, Segal soon realised its durability and potential as a system that could be employed by others wanting to build their own homes. The modular system is notable for its flexibility and for its openness to user interpretation, both in the building process itself and in its future use. It empowers the user-builder to take control of their environment and can be seen as a critique of the homogenous mass housing of the time that lacked any capacity for participation or personalisation.
Segal's system was employed in Lewisham, London in the 1970s when the council made available for self-builders three sites which were too small to be developed commercially. Although the self-build method was highly suitable for the context, it still took five years of negotiation before the council finally gave permission. Designed in consultation with Jon Broome, the system makes use of materials that are readily available and simple to work with and removes the need for any wet trades. Once the positioning of the timber frame and a services and circulation core are set, the standard size panels can be positioned according to user needs. Each self-builder was provided with basic plans, sections and a specification that described the sequence of construction. Within a set grid, they were able to make adaptations to the lightweight, dry and demountable construction system, which was screwed or bolted together. Since whole families could build the houses together, with children and the elderly being welcome on site, the building process itself engendered a strong sense of community. For many Segal's method has become an exemplary early model both in terms of construction and participation in housing design and his methods are promoted today by the Walter Segal Self-Build Trust.
London County Council, Housing: The Post-War Work of the London County Council. [Three Articles by Walter Segal.] (London: St. Magraret's Technical Press, 1949).
Walter Segal, Home and Environment (S.l.: Leonard Hill, 1948).
Kate Wharton, "A Man on His Own [Interview]," Architects Journal, 187 (18)(1988): 78-80.
Peter Blundell-Jones, "Walter Segal: 1907-85 [Obituary]," Architectural Review 178, no. 1066 (1985).
Jon Broome, "Segal Method Revisited," Architects Journal 202, no. 20 (1995).
Stephen Greenberg, "Segal sense: Walter Segal: An Architecture of Understanding [Exhibition Review]," Architects Journal 187, no. 22 (1988).
John McKean, Learning from Segal: Walter Segal's Life, Work and Influence (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1989).
Colin Ward, "Homing in on Sleeping Out," Architects Journal 187, no. 28 (1988).
"Green Credentials: Housing in Brighton by Architype.," RIBA Journal 106, no. 5 (1999).
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