Dawson's Heights

Dawson's Heights

One might call Dawson’s Heights, Kate Macintosh’s housing scheme for Southwark Council, completed in 1972, ‘Daunting Heights’. As you approach from the north, its fortress-like structure appears quite intimidating. But this was never her intention. Like an Italian hilltop town, there is an element of enclosure, almost protection in the estate’s central court. A significant influence was Macintosh’s home city of Edinburgh. She wanted to exploit the drama of the hilltop location, not just for the residents, but also for the surrounding area. As Kate herself said in a 2017 interview ‘south London is pretty monotonous’ (compared to Edinburgh). Anyone who has walked along Princes Street and looked towards the old town with its vertiginous tenements would appreciate the comparison she makes.

Composed of two ziggurat blocks, the design of Dawson’s Heights recalls a student project by Kate for an opera house in Edinburgh. Shortly before her appointment with Southwark, she had worked with Sir Denys Lasdun, who had just been chosen to work on the National Theatre, where she designed a small experimental theatre. She also acknowledges him as an influence. He came to give a lecture at Edinburgh School of Art when she was a student and she admired his flats at St James’s Place.

So, we can see these elements coming together at Dawson’s Heights. A dramatic site, built on the spoil heap of the Crystal Palace railway. Staggered blocks provide depth, height and outstanding views across north and south London. While access bridges link the two blocks at a lower level.

Accommodation comprises 296 dwellings ranging from one to four-bedroomed units, the latter confined to the lower maisonette blocks. All the apartments are split-level with generous balconies and wide access galleries, large enough for delivery trolleys. All the living rooms are designed to face south, with fully fitted kitchen / diners.

Several of the images below  featured in the exhibition Dawson's Heights: Hilltop Community at 66 Portland Place, between 29 November 2018 and 2 February 2019. This exhibition was created to complement the joint RIBA and V&A display, A Home for All: Six Experiments in Social Housing, which ran from 24 November 2018 to 30 June 2019 at the V&A Museum.

Feature by Suzanne Waters.

108601 items
RIBA4571Science Library, University of Aberdeen

RIBA4572Science Library, University of Aberdeen

RIBA4573Science Library, University of Aberdeen: view of the reading room from the mezzanine

RIBA4574Science Library, University of Aberdeen: the reading room

RIBA4575Housing at Grahame Park, Colindale, London: the southern spine seen from the north

RIBA4576Housing at Grahame Park, Colindale, London: close-up of a stair tower and public access decks

RIBA4587Cathedral of Notre Dame, Bayeux, Normandy: the choir

RIBA4588Battersea Power Station, London, seen from across the River Thames

RIBA4592Design for a shop at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris 1925

RIBA4593Design for patisserie kiosk, Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris 1925

RIBA4594Dolphin Square, Grosvenor Road, Pimlico, London: the internal courtyard seen from the south

RIBA4596Gull Rock, Carlyon Bay, Cornwall: view of the south elevation showing the balcony

RIBA4597Daily Express Building, 120-129 Fleet Street, City of London: the black Vitrolite and glass cladding contrasting with Wren's St Bride's Church in the background

RIBA459932 Newton Road, Paddington, London: page spread of the interior details

RIBA4601House with cast iron filigree decoration, Sydney, New South Wales

RIBA4602Terraced houses with cast iron filigree decoration, Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria

RIBA4603Hallfield Primary School, Bishop's Bridge Road, Paddington, London: looking out onto the courtyard

RIBA4604Hallfield Primary School, Bishop's Bridge Road, Paddington, London: the corridor along the north side of the junior school block equipped with coat hooks and seating

RIBA4605Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence: elevated view of the west facade, cloisters and piazza

RIBA4606Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence: view from the west across the piazza with trees planted around the marble obelisk

RIBA4610NatWest Media Centre, Lord's Cricket Ground, London: the staircase

RIBA4616Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London, seen from Undershaft

RIBA4618Alexander Pope's Grotto, Cross Deep, Twickenham, London: close-up of the mineral lined walls

RIBA4619A la Ronde, Exmouth, Devon: view of the walls decorated with mosaic in shells, feathers and seaweed

RIBA4620Alton West Estate, Roehampton, London: the staggered line of old people's cottages

RIBA4621Modular terraced housing, Netherfield, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

RIBA4622Gupar residence, Sao Paulo: view of the inner garden connected to the living room by a concrete pergola

RIBA4626Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London: photomontage of the design as built

RIBA4627Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London: the figure Architectural Aspiration being sculpted by Bainbridge Copnall which is above the main entrance

RIBA4628Cafe in Poplar, East London

RIBA4629Title page of Thomas Wilsford's 'Architectonice. The art of building' (1659)

RIBA4631Model for Corby Maternity Unit

RIBA4633Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Clifton, Bristol: plan