In the 1970s, the architect Walter Segal devised a simple, modularised form of timber-frame housebuilding, which came to be known as the Segal method.
Originally, Segal had designed a small timber-framed house for himself and his family to live in temporarily while their house was being demolished and rebuilt. Segal designed this small house in such a way that it could be constructed with a minimum of building experience and without need for the “wet trades” of bricklaying and plastering.
Segal’s method was not a “system” as such, but a modern rationalisation of traditional vernacular timber framing methods, and no copyright or proprietorship was claimed – in effect prefiguring the current conception of “open source hardware”. The method, based on the assembly of standard-sized timber and boards, allowed for flexibility in floorplan and interior fit-out to suit the self-builder’s own needs.
Segal realised that this system could be used by others in housing need: with little or no experience, they could design and build cheap, adaptable houses, and so house themselves instead of paying private landlords, or waiting for years for a conventionally-built council house.
With the Segal method, the dwellers became the designers and the builders of their own homes, and in doing so gained the skills to adapt and extend their properties as they wished in future. Through the pioneering self-build housing schemes in Lewisham in the 70s and 80s, the Segal method helped ordinary people on the council waiting list to take control of their own material conditions of living, and become designers, builders and dwellers on their own terms.