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Segal’s pragmatism and radicality both owed much to his education. The son of expressionist painter Arthur Segal, he spent his childhood in Ascona (Switzerland), not far from the anarchist commune at Monte Verità. His architectural training was marked by scepticism towards early modernist forms, interest in structural theory, and the lessons learned at Hans Poelzig’s design workshop. See John McKean, “Becoming an Architect in Europe between the Wars,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 39, (1996): 124-146.

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John Broome explained how one of Segal’s customers told Walter he had sacked the builders Segal had sent to build his house because, after observing their work, he felt quite capable of finishing it himself. See Jon Broome. “Walter Segal’s Approach”, Architects’ Journal, 5 November 1986.

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John McKean, “Einfaches Bauen”, Architese (January 1987).

Do-It-Yourself: The Segal Method

Segal method ©Jon Broome. Fuente: https://www.bmiaa.com/walters-way-the-self-build-revolution-at-aa-school-2/

In the face of the growing housing crisis, and thanks to some of the proposals aired at the Venice Biennale and to the appearance of cooperatives like RUSS, different DIY strategies have recently gained in popularity. These initiatives first emerged in Scandinavia at the beginning of the 20th century, but their contemporary relevance has been demonstrated over the last few years in Segal Close and Walter’s Way, two projects carried out in the United Kingdom by German architect Walter Segal.

The “Segal Method” is extremely simple and practical.1 Foundations are minimal and the whole construction can be dry-jointed. Partitions are not permanent and most components are placed one on top of another, so they can easily be altered to adapt to occupants’ needs. As Jon Broome (an architect who worked with Segal) pointed out, “Walter reinvented building from first principles and reduced it to its simplest terms (…). His idea was that you would use readily available, inexpensive materials (…) in their bought sizes (…).” Essentially, this meant modules. As some residents of Walter’s Way recall, Segal believed that the only skill needed to build a house was “to be able to cut a straight line with a saw and drill a straight hole.”

 

The German architect’s method originated in his family’s temporary home in Highgate, created on the same site where he was building his own house in 1966. The idea of self-build arose later when in 1971 one of his customers decided to fire the carpenters working on his home. 2 By that time, Segal was aware of the full potential of self-build: not only did it save on labour costs, but it was also a form of citizen empowerment. Moreover, it opened up the possibility of creating a community. Indeed, the notion of community became the central proposal for an urban space that went beyond the regulatory constraints of road widths and cornice heights to focus on social relationships between residents. As John McKean remarked, “citizens are involved in creating a place, not in sharing a place  that’s already been created.”3

Walter Segal’s ideas today represent a fresh look at architectural design understood as a collective undertaking, and at the same time an important reflection on the architect’s profession. From this perspective, their continuing relevance resides in Segal’s optimism with regard to the liberal exercise of that profession. He saw architects not so much as manipulators of form but as enablers qualified to propose eminently architectural solutions to social problems.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
1

Segal’s pragmatism and radicality both owed much to his education. The son of expressionist painter Arthur Segal, he spent his childhood in Ascona (Switzerland), not far from the anarchist commune at Monte Verità. His architectural training was marked by scepticism towards early modernist forms, interest in structural theory, and the lessons learned at Hans Poelzig’s design workshop. See John McKean, “Becoming an Architect in Europe between the Wars,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 39, (1996): 124-146.

2

John Broome explained how one of Segal’s customers told Walter he had sacked the builders Segal had sent to build his house because, after observing their work, he felt quite capable of finishing it himself. See Jon Broome. “Walter Segal’s Approach”, Architects’ Journal, 5 November 1986.

3

John McKean, “Einfaches Bauen”, Architese (January 1987).

Autor:
Arquitecto, vive y trabaja en Londres. Doctor por la ETSAUN (Pamplona), MA en History & Critical Thinking por la Architectural Association School of Architecture (Londres). María ha participado en distintas conferencias internacionales y ha sido también profesor ayudante de la ETSAUN, “Visiting Lecturer” en la School of Creative Arts de la Universidad de Hertfordshire (Hatfield, RU) y crítico invitado en la Architectural Association (Londres, RU).

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