“Anyone Can Build a House”—on Walter Segal
“Anyone Can Build a House”—on Walter Segal

In 1962, the German-born architect Walter Segal was living in Highgate, north London, and planning to demolish and rebuild the family home: a major construction project that would take over a year. To accommodate himself, his partner, and six children in the meantime, he created a “little house” in the garden: a wooden frame erected on paving slabs, then insulated and wrapped in a weatherproof shell, with windows that were simply sliding glass panels. The whole thing cost £800 (about £12,000 or $16,000 USD today) and took two weeks to build; all the materials were bought and used in their pre-cut standard sizes, so the house could be dismantled and the material reused or resold. Instead, the structure lasted fifty years. That modest house redirected Segal’s career, making him an evangelist for radical simplicity in architecture and construction — for what ordinary people could do with grit, patience, and a heap of cheap lumber. He saw revolutionary potential in democratizing house building, through the sense of pride, ownership, and community that would rise with every wooden frame — a revolution that continues today.


Brian Sholis