Author Archives: John

Segal Part 93

January 1989 and (for one never steps into the same river twice) May 2021










The second book on Segal has finally moved into production at Lund Humphries and is due for delivery to any eager potential readers in May 2021.

I had imagined that my Walter Segal, English Architect –  for the nice series of 20th Century English Architects – would be published even before this one, Walter Segal, self-built Architect, was written. But  sponsoring publishers RIBA and Historic England faded, as Liverpool UP joined the stalwart Twentieth Century Society; all, it seems, remains in dark pipeline.  However, this rather different book, written by myself with a final section by Alice Grahame, is actively in production for published in May 2021.

This book’s first section focuses on Segal’s formative years in Continental Europe where his father Arthur was an important painter and Walter grew up surrounded by leaders of the European avant-garde. On qualifying as architect in Germany just as the Nazi party came to power, Segal moved to Switzerland, Mallorca, Egypt and finally to London in 1936.

The second section focuses on Walter Segal’s central theme of popular housing, his unique and independent form of professional practice, how he managed to spread his ideas through writing and teaching, and how his architecture developed towards the timber-frame form known world-wide today as ‘the Segal system’, which could be used by people to build their own houses.

The third section follows the development of the timber-frame form known world-wide today as ‘the Segal method’ and how it came to be used by people to build and indeed design their own houses. This culminated at the time of Segal’s death in two areas of self-built public authority social housing in London – housing which, nearly half a century later, remains as unique and highly desirable neighbourhoods.
The final part is written by Alice Grahame, whose home is a self-built Segal house and who organised the Walter Segal exhibition at the Architectural Association in 2016. She explores the legacy offered by Segal to younger generations; how his work and example, half a century after his timber ‘method’ was developed, leads to the possibility of making, and then living within, communities whose places are constructed with a flexible, easily assembled, planet-friendly timber-frame building system today and tomorrow.
The book is found – and indeed can be ordered – on the Lund Humphries website here and we are all hoping that, despite the continuing unfavourable Covid-10 climate, we can publicly share its arrival one way or another in 2021.
Posted in Posts … news, Posts ... words, Walter Segal | Leave a comment

The Plague following GDC’s centenary

Updating the previous post on De Carlo here, the Plague soon overwhelmed Italy and now wreaks more havoc on England.  Of the three early 2020 offering planned:

First, the book arrived before the Plague, and my essay, Uno Sguardo a Giancarlo De Carlo is found here

Second, the issue of Histories of Post-war Architecture built around GDC is finally appearing (HPA5/2019/2) and my essay – words, then drawings, then photographs – has just reached me at the end of April 2020 when the Plague is said to be peaking here. Domestic action: Living in a house for jumpers. GDC and Ca’ Romanino is found here

Third, while Antonello Alici’s wonderful marathon of De Carlo readings did begin in early April (start here), his great De Carlo and Britain, which was to have been in Cambridge last week, was smothered by the Plague and may morph into future shapes in the future.

Posted in Posts … news, Posts ... words, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Segal part 89

My text – Walter Segal, English Architect –  for the nice series of 20th Century English Architects (from which sponsors RIBA and Historic England have now faded but to which Liverpool University Press has joined the stalwart Twentieth Century Society) was sent off many months ago. And now the rather different book, written by Alice Grahame and me – Walter Segal : Self-built Architect – moves to the production phase at Lund Humphries, with our draft texts off to the publisher by the end of April. Perhaps the Plague’s enforced imprisonment has also encouraged a bit of focus!

(from left) Walter Segal, elderly self-builder, Jon Broome

Posted in Posts … news, Walter Segal | Leave a comment

Giancarlo De Carlo’s centenary

De Carlo, his centenary having passed a few weeks ago, is shaken back into my consciousness thrice so far this year.

First, the new book edited by Monica Mazzolani and Antonio Troisi comes through the mail in mid January 2020.

Then the GDC issue of HPA should surely be appearing soon – it being months since I passed the page proofs – although I noticed the date on the pages of the proofs said ‘2018’.

And now, third, we work towards Antonello Alici’s Cambridge seminar in April on GDC and the Anglo-Saxon connection.

Posted in Posts … news | Leave a comment

Segal, part 84

Keeping away from the alluring and addictive surf (I find I’ve wasted hours before I get surf-bored), I was surprisingly nudged awake this week by a younger architectural historian friend asking if I’d seen a tweet about Walter Segal’s archive. She then kindly showed it to me.

Perhaps it happens to all tweets at holiday periods which ask a question. Certainly here a fascinating chain ensued, all stemming from an innocent private chat at a New Year party. Who knows, it may end with a wonderful, safe, organised and accessible home for the life-long material left by the ever meticulous Walter Segal.

But once on the surf this morning, that soon got me floating past all sorts of undecaying plastic in the data ocean – and suddenly meeting one of my own photographs of Walter Segal up a ladder. 

Ho hum. This opens a piece in a magazine called AnOther, it seems.  Quite a charming little piece about the Segal self-built streets in Lewisham (actually a puff for Alice and Taran’s lovely book), it also used two more of my pictures from those early self-building days. I wonder where they found them? But at least, although I was never shown this 18-month old article before, they do correctly credit my photos. It can be read here. 

Posted in Posts … news, Posts ... words, Walter Segal | Leave a comment

Segal, part 71

This drawer (the fourth down, on the left) , is now (July 2019) unlocked, opened and labelled Walter Segal. Now there are books contracted and underway – Walter Segal: Self-built Architect by John McKean & Alice Grahame (Lund Humphries) and  Walter Segal by John McKean in the ’20th century English Architects’ series which The 20th Century Society with RIBA and Historic England set on a fine trail and of which University of Liverpool Press have very recently taken the reins.

Here are a jumbled few posts (the Segal, part thingie series) and yellowing cuttings over recent years regarding an ongoing interest in Mr. Segal.  However, elsewhere in this filing cabinet is a large envelope labelled Walter Segal (goodness, it turns red when you hover over it!), and in there are found various substantial, pre-digital texts I have written about Mr. Segal, mostly centuries ago, which anyone interested is welcome to steal as downloadable pdf files.

Walter Segal talking through the space left alongside his cigar, sitting in the first self-built house in his system, Mr and Mrs Holland’s house, seen in poster on right. Both photographs: John McKean

I may add links to other views on Segal as time allows, but a good starting point is a brief introduction to Segal by Colin Ward which you can read here. Meanwhile my colleagues Alice Grahame (author) and Taran Wilkhu (photographer) in 2017 published attractive tales of life in two idyllic Segal streets, self-built 40 years ago in London by people on the local authority’s list of those in housing need; it can be bought here and elsewhere.  Alice has also started this useful Segal-news website here, while a range of Taran’s great pictures of the interiors in 2017 are also seen here.

Posted in Posts … news, Walter Segal | Leave a comment

Master your own education!


Look – No Students

  •  It is fascinating to see Dezeen recently talking about Stacie Woolsey’s Make Your Own Masters which is now very much alive here – a real future in design education! 

It certainly takes me back nearly half a century, when in a very different educational world I was arguing about the possibilities at Alvin Boyarsky’s Architectural Association. And then, a few years later Monica Pidgeon published my very sketchy manifesto ‘Look no students!’  in RIBA Journal 1970.  Strange to read it again after so long; and yet, with the cobwebs dusted off …



Posted in Posts … news | Leave a comment

Building Ambitions of Brighton College

Today is mid-May (but we won’t be mid-May for much longer, I hear) and I open this website for the first time this year. My story of Brighton College’s building ambitions is finally off to be printed today and can be changed no further. Looks good here. It has been an interesting project, it just growed and growed but I hope it has been worthwhile.

And in the time it has taken me to get to print, the OMA building has moved from this shot at the very end of 2018 to a genuinely recognisable building.

Posted in Posts … news, Posts ... words | Leave a comment

Segal, Part 70

SPECIAL OFFER!  I have a copy of this classic masterpiece at greatly reduced price one week only – £129.99!

Otherwise, Segal fans, you will just have to wait for a while more for a new book to  appear… soon…

Posted in Posts … news, Posts ... words, Walter Segal | Leave a comment

Et in arcadia ego

The praise heaped on David Watkin and his Morality and Architecture, following his recent death, and then that of Robert Venturi just weeks later, took me back exactly 40 years, to when I saw them both in that summer of 1978.   Giancarlo De Carlo asked me to review Watkin, Jencks’ Second Edition Post-Modern and that summer’s fun in London for his then new journal Spazio e Società.   Here is a snippet:

David Watkin’s book (perhaps to Jencks’ embarrassment) is in ways similar, but this is a mischievous if not downright malicious piece of reactionary propaganda posing as academic righteousness. Full of tendentious sneers and gratuitous insult, while purporting to argue against the moral purpose in architecture from Pugin to Pevsner and the Modern Movement, it reveals itself as a violently anti-socialist tirade.

‘It’s principal claim to originality’, philosophy professor Richard Wollheim wrote recently, ‘is the total absence of sympathy with the topic on which its polemic is conducted’. It is a corpse not worth picking at; having been adequately dismembered, its nastiness and stupidities brilliantly flayed by Reyner Banham (Times Literary Supplement 12.2.78 p. 191), and its likely consequences more subtly dissected by Robin Evans, (Architectural Design May/June 1978 p 276).

But in a sense Watkin’s hollow diatribe was as necessary as Jencks’ shallow case; for, although ‘the old Puritan idea that simplicity is moral and elaboration immoral’, (of which on pages 38-39 Watkin accuses Le Corbusier), makes me assume he’s never seen a Corbusier building, we have enough evidence of the sterility of modern architecture for Watkin’s boorishness to claim an excited following. Watkin, setting up the arid polarity of formalism (good architecture) versus socialism (bad architecture), can only retreat into the suggestion that the architect renounce all interest in the social milieu created by his work, to become the mere stylist of museum exhibits.

The Modern Movement claimed to be the only true architecture for the people; but it was unintellegible to them. ‘Anything which reminds one of the past is a vice’ (as Watkin wildly caricatures Pevsner).

I’m slightly taken aback to find this again after so long.  How far have we now really wandered into a foreign country, I wonder? 

The whole long piece for SeS – also built around Peter Cook’s Art-Net and Robin Middleton’s Beaux-Arts ‘conferences’  of summer 1978- is found here.

Posted in Posts … news | Leave a comment