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.

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RIBA3769Hatfield Technical College, Hertfordshire, with relief sculpture by Barbara Hepworth

 
RIBA3770Hatfield Technical College, Hertfordshire

 
RIBA3771Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London


RIBA3772Cathedral of Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, Paris

 
RIBA3773Palladian Bridge, Stowe, Buckinghamshire

 
RIBA3774Salisbury Cathedral: the spire seen from the north-west


RIBA3775Dulwich Picture Gallery and Mausoleum, London

 
RIBA3776Queen's House, Greenwich, London: the south front

 
RIBA3777York Minster: the west front


RIBA3778Lincoln Cathedral: the nave

 
RIBA3779Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, seen from the northwest

 
RIBA3780Building of the General Staff, St Petersburg, seen from Palace Square


RIBA3781Espaces d'Abraxas housing, Marne-la-Vallee

 
RIBA3782Pompidou Centre (Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou), Paris

 
RIBA3783M2 building, Tokyo


RIBA3784Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji), Ginkakuji Temple, Kyoto

 
RIBA3785Main temple (Hondo), Ginkakuji Temple, Kyoto

 
RIBA3786South Main Gate (Nandaimon), Todaiji Temple, Nara


RIBA3787Amida Hall (or Phoenix Hall), Byodo-in Temple, Uji

 
RIBA3788Chartres Cathedral: the north rose window

 
RIBA3789Ely Cathedral: the choir and high altar


RIBA3790Cathedral of Notre Dame, Reims: statues surrounding doorways of west portal

 
RIBA3792Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, seen from the south-west

 
RIBA3793Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens


RIBA3794Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis, Athens: one of the two Ionic colonnaded porticos

 
RIBA3795Schimek House, Berlin

 
RIBA3796House at 14 Neville Drive, London: the garden front


RIBA3797Pine House, Churt, Surrey: the music room

 
RIBA3799Manchester Town Hall

 
RIBA3800Kumbha Shyama Temple (or Temple of Vriji), Chittorgarh


RIBA3801Adinatha Temple, Ranakpur

 
RIBA3802Adinatha Temple, Ranakpur

 
RIBA3803Old palace, Meherangarh Fort, Jodhpur


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