Category Archives: Posts … words

Giancarlo De Carlo 102 not out

(That wonderful photograph on HPA7 cover deserves serious interrogation and deconstruction. Its description to me by GDC is very far from the usual, easy, caption.)

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Segal Part 101: Do Not File Under West African Architecture

Kindly reviewing my book on Walter Segal, SuedDeutsche Bauwirkschaft of Stuttgart unfortunatly misled readers, fascinated by the most westerly point of Africa, into believing it contained Learning from Senegal. 

I have to declare, for those same or other readers fascinated by Africa, that Walter Segal, Self-Built Architect, published by Lund Humphries, London, 32 years later at the end of June 2021, only discusses African architecture when Segal was in its North-eastern corner, working in Egypt.

However their review’s encapsulation of Segal’s project still stands:










This book tells of the work of an architect who always assumed that houses should be simple, useful and cheap. Houses should be friendly to people and the environment. They should be such that the residents feel comfortable in them. Universal common sense, of course? Unfortunately not in the age of luxury and fashion. It is a very readable book. (Sueddeutsche Bauwirtschaft, 3/1989)

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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 publication 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.
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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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The world of Piero della Francesca : a couple of thoughts

This post – just as we are leaving Italy for a winter in England – simply locates two or three things which, during the recent Cognoscenti tour to the world of Piero della Francesca, I promised to make available to those on that tour.

The first is the David A King’s fascinating and completely original take on The Flagellation. I mentioned his ideas only very briefly as we stood in front of this amazing painting a few weeks ago.  Click here and you will be introduced to his thesis about Bessarion (to whom I did introduce the group) and his astrolabe, linked mysteriously with the Piero painting. The best introduction is the slideshow of his lecture in Urbino, well worth a glance (click on his “silent lecture” click here, once you are on his page to download it as a pdf).

The second is a short essay I wrote 25 years ago about Urbino. It’s a very brief introduction, but while on the tour, one of the travellers who had read it (as we had circulated it to the Renaissance City tour in 2915), suggested more of you might be interested, now you have had a taster of that remarkable city.  Here it is: my-kind-of-town_jmck.

Crowds at The Resurrection, at The Annunciation, and filling the piazza in Arezzo

Crowds at The Resurrection, at The Annunciation, and filling the piazza in Arezzo

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In 3 days time – Regarding the Human

I like this floating lady, almost Chagall-like, but I don’t think she made the final cut for the exhibition which opens on Saturday at The House of Friendship, 208 High Streeet, Lewes.

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Forgive a few weekend musings.

Germans voted for and supported Hitler. Were they mesmerised? Were good people silent, leaving “too few free spirits to do any good”?

I have today been reading Sarah Bakewell on the mid 16th Century essay ‘Voluntary Servitude’ which discusses “the ease with which tyrants dominate the masses, even though their power would evaporate instantly if those masses withdrew their support.” (The “too few free spirits” phrase above also comes from her life of Montaigne, as do all following quotes.)

Today we continue to vote for those who have our own worst interests at heart.

Montaigne’s friend La Boétie “simply says that the people need only stop co-operating, and supplying armies of slaves and sycophants to prop the tyrant up.” In today’s democracies we simply can stop voting for them. “Yet this almost never happens, even to those who maltreat their subjects monstrously.”

La Boétie (around 1545) writes “that tyrants somehow hypnotise their people. … They cannot wake from the dream.” La Boétie, in Bakewell’s words, makes it sound almost like a kind of witchcraft. “If it occurred on a smaller scale, someone would probably be burned at the stake, but when bewitchment seizes a whole society, it goes unquestioned.”

Even George Osborne now compares that Farage poster to Nazi propaganda.

I think of carefully planned, slowly released, incitement to terrorism, in its new specificity. This is not attacking a ‘symbol’ – burning a flag, killing Lee Rigby in London simply because of his uniform, or aid workers and journalists for being ‘Western’. The terrorising murder of an important, singled-out, political actor is really different.

No one death is mourned any more, nor any less, than the other. But the issue of terrorism, of terrorist behaviour, is sharply different. Gangs of arms-length thugs marauded and murdered in the dark streets of inter-war Germany. But the socialist leaders were very specifically targeted.

Targeting an immigrant today is callous and totally indefensible. Targeting a prominent activist supporting immigrants is very different and far more dangerous.

We cannot all copy Spartacus’ colleagues and say “I am an immigrant.” But what if – to counter Hitler’s yellow star – everyone in Britain today, who has at least one grand-parent not born in this country, would wear a sign, say a white flower, and wear it with great pride. Would that not be something wonderful?

(I couldn’t take part, but today being Father’s Day, I note that my children’s grandparents, other than my own parents, are an anti-semitic Pole kidnapped by Russia as a young teenager, an Austrian Jew, an Arab Christian from Lebanon and a German Jew; all normal British citizens.)

A final thought. What if on one day – the day before the referendum, for example – every single British person with one grand-parent not born in Britain declined to work that day; downed tools, refused, was on strike for Britain and humanity. Then the country would notice.

June 19, 2016

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