The Segal method is based on traditional timber frame methods modified to use standard materials available today. It eliminates the need for wet trades such as bricklaying and plastering resulting in a light-weight methods which can be built with minimal experience and are ecologically sound. The roofs tend to be flat with many layers of roofing felt, which allows the creation of grass covered roofs. Foundations are minimal, often just paving slabs, the strength coming from the geometry of their construction. Segal houses have been compared to traditional Japanese houses.
Walter Segal was brought up in Switzerland close to an alternative community called Monte Verità (McKean: 1988). His first commission was a small wooden holiday cabin built in 1932 and commissioned by a rich patron, Bernhard Mayer. The same patron enabled him to study architecture among the pioneers of the Modern Movement in Delft, Berlin.
He then moved to London in 1936 where he met Eva Bradt, a student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. He taught at the school, wrote in trade journals, published a couple of books and had a few small architectural commissions. Eva died in 1950.
In the 1960s he and his new partner Moran Scott decided to demolish and rebuild their home at Highgate. They built a temporary structure in the garden using standard cladding materials and with no foundations other than paving slabs. It took two weeks to build and cost £800. This house roused considerable interest and led to a number of commissions using a similar style around the country. As the system developed the clients were able to do more and more of the building themselves.
In the 1970s Lewisham borough council made three small sites, unsuitable for mainstream housing, available for people to build their own homes using the method unsuitable for mainstream housing. Due to the success of these a fourth was later made available.
After his death in 1985 the Walter Segal Self-build Trust was set up and his methods have gained in popularity. A Segal house at the Centre for Alternative Technology has helped in spreading the system. At least six of these buildings and schemes have won awards ranging from the prestigious Housing Project Design Award to Green Building of the Year.
- Biography of Segal
- Why I Love ... Walter Segal's Architecture
- Self-build by Mike Daligan of the Walter Segal Self-Build Trust
- Walter Segal, Home and Environment, Leonard Hill (1948, 1953)
- Walter Segal, Planning and Transport: Their Effects on Industry and Residence Dent, for the Cooperative Permanent Building Society, (1945)
- Walter Segal, Learning from the Self-Builders (Audiobook), World Microfilms Publications Ltd (December 1983)
- John McKean, Learning from Segal: Walter Segal's Life, Work and Influence, Birkhauser (Architectural) (1988)
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