A quiet triumph of self-build housing and adaptive design, tucked away in a South London cul-de-sac
The approach to Walters Way (note no apostrophe) is entirely unremarkable: a typical London pattern of railway-led development, fronds of semi-detached and terraces arching and arcing away from Honor Oak Park Underground station, up the hill towards St. Augustine’s.
Yet when you reach Walters Way, a few minutes walk up the road, you’ll find a cluster of quite remarkable, or perhaps quietly remarkable, houses. Thirteen boxy, half-timbered houses, built to the Segal Method system designed by the architect Walter Segal—hence the ‘Walter’ in Walters Way—as part of a pioneering 1980s self-build housing project led by London Borough of Lewisham. There are around 200 Segal buildings in the UK, but as far as I know, this is perhaps the most best concentrated example of Segal designs in the country.
They are lightweight, simple, cheap buildings made mostly of timber, removing the need for bricklaying and plastering, and thus enable a form of true user-centred design; in that the inhabitants were able to build them for themselves, and continue to adapt them over time. In that, they now have echoes of the inspirational baugruppen projects found in Berlin and elsewhere across Europe, or even Brisbane’s Queenslanders; yet Segal houses are perhaps more immediately at-hand, more knockabout, and of course smaller and simpler, enabling the adaptive design approach you’ll see evidence of in the pictures below.
You can see the interest in these houses increasing (note that one of the houses was sold recently via The Modern House, which is telling.) This Lewisham-led scheme sits proudly in stark contrast to the current lack of innovation in public housing in the UK, whereas projects ranging from Wikihouse to baugruppen forge variations on self-build at various scales, taking different technical approaches to Segal but with similar spirit.
The Architecture Foundation produced this documentary about Walters Way, and there’s more information on the Segal Method at Segal Self-Build Trust or Self-Build Central, or in this revealing article by one of the inhabitants, and this good piece by Oliver Wainwright, reflecting on a recent exhibition at the AA. This piece by Rowan Moore mentions the new book by resident Alice Grahame, entitled Walters Way and Segal Close.
I caught the houses on a January day that started dull and then brightened up, approaching from the woods.
The construction methods are fairly exposed, of course, but not unappealingly so, and this ends up being an excellent example of ‘seamful’ design, or of Dieter Rams’s principle “Good Design Makes A Product Understandable.”
Leave a Reply