Dezeen Magazine

Walters Way houses can be easily adapted to their owner's needs

The final video tour published in collaboration with this year's Open House London festival spotlights Walters Way, a collection of 13 adaptable houses in Lewisham that were self-built by their owners with the help of architect Walter Segal.

Filmed by Jim Stephenson, the documentary is one of a series of video tours of rarely-published places in the capital, commissioned by Open House London for its 2020 programme.

Walters Way is a collection of unusual timber-framed houses in south London, developed as a result of an innovative council-run self-build housing scheme in the 1980s.

They were built on a derelict site that was offered up to people on Lewisham's housing waiting list who were willing to construct their own homes, using the pared-back building method of modernist architect Segal.

Walters Way self-build houses in London
A close-up of two self-built houses in Walters Way

"In the 1970s, there was a housing crisis and there was a very long list of people on the waiting list in Lewisham wanting houses," explained Alice Grahame, a resident of Walters Way.

"There were about five or six people at Lewisham Council, who were interested in doing something quite progressive," she said in the video.

"They started to discuss whether it would be possible to do a Walter Segal self-build scheme that was funded by the Council, and that would allow ordinary people who were on the council waiting lists to actually build their own homes, and then live in them."

A self-built house in Walters Way in London
The interiors of resident Alice Grahame's home

Walters Way is one of two cul-de-sacs in Lewisham filled with houses constructed with the Segal self-build method technique, the other being Segal Close.

As fellow resident Dave Dayes explains in the film, the self-builders who have lived there have rarely had any building experience and fitted their construction work in on evenings and weekends.

This was made possible as Segal's construction method was deliberately simple – utilising a light-weight timber frame and readily available materials, rather than traditional methods that rely on wet trades.

As such, the houses can also be easily adapted to the needs of their occupants and, since the 1980s, has resulted in many being extended and improved by their owners.

"A lot of the houses in the street have also been adapted and changed internally and externally, people have added on parts to their houses, as their families and their needs grow," explained Ian White, another Walters Way resident.

"And that was one of the fundamental principles of the Segal process that houses are flexible to adapt to you, and you don't have to adapt to a prescribed house."

A self-built house in Walters Way in London
The wooden exterior of one self-build home

"There's a kind of a virus on this street, and it's a self-build virus," resident Dayes concludes in the film.

"You get it, and once you got it, you can't get rid of it, you know, constantly got tools. I have tools out all the time. You're just constantly doing something."

Dezeen is media partner for Open House London and has featured a different video every day during the festival. The films formed part of the event's diverse programme for 2020, which was been curated in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Open House London takes place at venues across London and online from 19 to 27 September. Videos will be published on Dezeen each day during the festival. See Dezeen Events Guide for details of more architecture and design events.

Project credits:

Guides: Alice Grahame, Dave Dayes and Ian White
Producers: Nyima Murry
Videographer: Jim Stephenson of Stephenson/Bishop Films