Walters Way and Segal Close in Lewisham, South London, are the sites of Walter Segal’s experiments in self-built housing. The ‘Segal method’ of construction, allowed participants to build simple, affordable and flexible homes in an era in which, as now, standardised, mass-housing was prevalent. Segal’s passion for technical solutions was teamed with an acute awareness of the social capacity of architecture, resulting in processes of design and construction that empowered users.
The Segal method
Segal’s overriding concept was to simplify the building process so that it became accessible to a larger number of people. This was achieved through a basic ideology – to eliminate the unnecessary and wasteful.
The system had two defining characteristics:
- Grid arrangement: Segal’s housing design included a fixed circulation and services core set within a grid of set dimensions. Aside from these fixed elements, participants could position panels to create spaces specific to their needs. The standardised and modular design of the timber frame eliminated waste and excess labour, and meant that future extensions and alterations could be made easily to accommodate residents changing needs.
- Obtainable materials: Building materials were readily-available including cheap timber cladding, lining materials and insulation in standard sizes. The choice of light materials meant that heavy machinery and lifting equipment was not required. There was also little need for more skilled building trades such as bricklaying, plastering and concreting. The use of standard sheet panels also enabled users to adapt spaces and reuse materials.
Twenty-seven houses were built over two phases of construction between 1979 and 1984.
Walter Segal inherited an understanding and respect for the modernist principles of minimalism and rationality. However, unlike many modernist architects of his era, Segal rejected the notion of commitment to one idea, ideology or doctrine of thought, 'for Segal there was no such thing as an easy, universal solution' (McKean, 1989).
Walter Segal’s most enduring legacy came in his later years; he died at the age of 78 during the construction of the second Lewisham project. His architectural career focused in its latter stages on finding a solution to housing problems in England. Segal campaigned against standardised mass-housing in the 1960s. He strongly believed in 'the provision of equal quality but not the same housing environment for all' (McKean, 1989) . He developed a plan for self-built housing on short-leased local authority land, which was eventually facilitated and funded by Lewisham Borough Council on three small residential sites.