Sunday 18 January 2015

A solution to our housing problems .................................. the Walter Segal self-build .................................................

Last week saw a repeat on the More 4 channel of Kevin McCleod's revisit to one of his favourite Grand Design projects:
Grand Designs - Revisit: Brighton, 2012 - Channel 4

... which he saw start from scratch almost a decade and a half ago:
Grand Designs Revisited - Series 1 Episode 2 - Channel 4

Grand Designs revisit Hogs Edge

Kevin revisits Brighton, a pioneering build from the first ever series of Grand Designs, and finds himself genuinely inspired.
Grand Designs revisit Hogs Edge (image) - 5 December 2012

In the last century, on the first ever series of Grand Designs, a younger Kevin McCloud watched as a groundbreaking co-operative of 10 families built their own homes on the edge of Brighton.
'The Hedgehogs', as they were known, were made up of former travellers and those living in insecure accommodation. The council bought them land and covered the cost of construction; the deal being that in return for their labour, and lots of it, they would get to live in their self-built homes at reduced rent.
Unpaid, they slogged away for over two years on this pioneering venture, based on revolutionary designs from architect Walter Segal.
A decade later, Kevin returns to see if the houses, and the families that built them, have stood the test of time.

Grand Designs revisit Hogs Edge - 5 December 2012 - AmicusHorizon

Here's a snippet available on YouTube:

A Community Self-Build for Rent Project in Brighton, UK to provide 10 family homes for people in priority housing need.

Grand Designs S01E03 Hedgehog 5 - YouTube

Here's a little more information from a self-build magazine - with several views of the Brighton houses and lots of comment:

Hedgehog Co-op

Hedgehog Self Build Co-op, Hogs Edge, Brighton
august 2009
One of Brighton’s examples of community self build which started in the late 1990s, this development of ten timber frame houses is based on the Walter Segal approach to construction. They incorporate high levels of Warmcell insulation and benefit from south facing solar gain. The living roofs are of Sedum.
Hedgehog housing coop, Brighton | Selfbuild Central

And here's Kevin again, writing for another self-build publication - on that revisit:

from kevin

The highs of community self-build

‘But the hardest route, the noblest, fraught with tension and sacrifice, is that of community self-build, where a group of people with few or no building skills come together to build each others’ homes. In so doing, they learn skills, build a community and, when it works, become very empowered people. When it doesn’t, bitter acrimony can dividethe group. Even successful projects are bedevilled by social tensions and people dropping out. We’ve filmed two such schemes for Grand Designs (sadly, there ought to have been more, but these are rare beasts) and last autumn we revisited a project in Brighton from Series one, first filmed in 1999. This was the Hedgehog Co-op at Hogs Edge (above), which is made up of a group of 10 stick-built homes that follow the style of self-build developer and architect Walter Segal. They’ve been entirely constructed by the residents (Segal’s design approach made this possible) under the watchful expertise of Geoff Stow, a Segal veteran who provided the essential technical support these schemes so badly need.
‘So what shape is the project in now, 14 years on? Happily, it’s still there, settling into a prickly coat of foliage and orchard; a community shed, beehive and work spaces dot the shared gardening areas. The 10 original families are all still there, making in one form or another some kind of social contribution; the reduced rent they’ve enjoyed as a contra to their sweat equity allows them time and space to give something back to the community.
‘But the greatest impression was made by the children who have grown up there; they are quietly cogniscent of the privilege they’ve enjoyed of quiet, high-quality architecture and of a special social bond,forged by their parents, which they have inherited. Their experience gently but powerfully underscores the way our environment can make us happier, more fulfilled people in practical ways.
From Kevin McCloud - The Self Builder

This is clearly 'sustainable' and 'achievable' - as highlighted in another publication:
Sustainable, achievable | Analysis | Inside Housing

And there are other similar sites to the one in Brighton  - inspired by architect Walter Segal - patron of the self-build house:
Walter Segal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Segal Self Build
walter segal | Tumblr

Here is more, very practical stuff from the self-build community:

a Segal self build house in Brighton

the system

The Walter Segal self build approach to construction is uniquely organised so that anyone who can use basic tools such as a saw, hammer, drill/driver, tape measure, etc. can build a house. There are even one or two cases of single parent mothers, who have had only basic training in woodworking skills, building their own houses. It’s not quite Lego, but probably as close as you can get using standard building materials. This can create large savings in construction costs.
No wet trades are used (like bricklaying and plastering) – skills which are difficult to acquire. It is a stripped down system of construction with a highly minimalist and rationalist approach. It has proved very adaptable in terms of upgrading to high insulation values and handled properly could probably achieve Passivhaus or Zero carbon standard. However, this can be seen as quite a challenge, as is the case with many types of construction which involve sealing multiple sets of construction joints to achieve air tightness.
It is a bolt-together, post and beam form of timber frame construction which relies on using all the materials in their standard sizes, as they are delivered, so there is almost no cutting or waste. The foundations are point blocks of concrete, usually 600 x 600 wide, (depth depending on soil conditions) so less concrete is used than in strip foundations. There is no oversite concrete used so this cuts down on embodied energy. Originally intended to be single storey construction, it has proved to work well up to three storeys (although this is pushing things a bit and requires a large input by a structural engineer) – see Allerton Park.
Though there are many excellent examples of Segal houses in the UK, the development of the system has recently become somewhat moribund because the people involved with it, mainly architects working in the green building movement, are busy with other things. There is also a rather low cultural level of understanding of timber (not only for building but about timber as a fuel and the planting of timber for the future. Hence the slow uptake of prefabricated and flatpack houses. see Timber Culture)
Although the system is basically simple and very flexible it still requires that full sets of drawings and structural calculations are supplied to Building Control and these will normally be prepared by an architect or architectural technologist and a structural engineer.
A frequent request on this web site is for construction details of the Segal system and we hope to publish these shortly. Requests on the contact form below will speed this up. You can see the basics of the system on Dominic Stevens web site. Bear in mind that it is a construction system rather than a set of house designs. It is very flexible and you still need to design the house.


There are now quite a lot of examples of Segal buildings being taken down, moved and built elsewhere which show the re-usability of the system.

There are a couple of exemplary group housing developments such as Hedgehog Housing Co-op in Brighton at Hog’s Edge and the houses at Walter’s Way (some Google images here and usually one of Walter himself, though now deceased) in London.

Walter Segal construction method | Selfbuild Central

The last point refers to Segal's houses in Forest Hill, London, which attract considerable sums today:
Segal Close, London SE23 — The Modern House Estate Agents: Architect-Designed Property For Sale in London and the UK
Local architecture: Walter Segal’s unusual buildings | Chiller

The point, though, is not only how cheap they are to build, but that anyone can learn to do it, as shown in these how-to videos:
walter segal - YouTube

And they are not a blight on the landscape as with so much housing.

Which would you prefer - the grass-roofed, wooden houses on the edge of the South Downs:

Hedgehog Self Build

or the monotonous council housing of Brighton:

Bear Road, Brighton - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Social housing does not have to be a depressing place to live:
Transpontine: Will we build again? - thoughts on radical housing



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