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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RIBA4882Science Museum Principe Felipe, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, at dusk

 
RIBA4883Science Museum Principe Felipe, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia: detail of the glazed structure

 
RIBA4884Science Museum Principe Felipe, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia: roof detail


RIBA4885Science Museum Principe Felipe, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

 
RIBA4886Green Lanes Junior School, Croxley Green, Hertfordshire

 
RIBA4887Green Lanes Junior School, Croxley Green, Hertfordshire: a classroom


RIBA4888Church of St Michael and All Angels, London Fields, Hackney, London

 
RIBA4889Jacques Herzog

 
RIBA4890Pierre de Meuron


RIBA4891Photogram with lightbulb

 
RIBA4894St Lawrence, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire: view across the nave from the north porch to the south porch

 
RIBA4895Pebbles and seashells on the shore


RIBA4901Town centre, Cumbernauld New Town

 
RIBA4902Town centre, Cumbernauld New Town: the approach from the south

 
RIBA4907Proposed Royal National Theatre and Opera House, South Bank, London, as seen from the river: elevational view of model


RIBA4908Denys Lasdun (standing) and Philip Wood (centre) with their team in the studio, with the discarded models of the National Theatre in the background

 
RIBA4909Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London: detail of the formwork on the concrete wall of the Lyttelton Theatre

 
RIBA4910Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London, seen from the north-east


RIBA4911Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London: the Lyttelton foyer, looking west

 
RIBA4912Ninewells Teaching Hospital and Medical School, Dundee: the south end of the concourse block and tower

 
RIBA4913New Zealand House, Haymarket, London: the podium and tower seen from Pall Mall


RIBA4914Cockenzie power station, Lothian

 
RIBA4915Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh

 
RIBA4916Custom House, 298 Clyde Street, Glasgow


RIBA4917Brandenburg Gate and the Quadriga, Berlin

 
RIBA4919Oslo University: the main facade

 
RIBA4921Saltcote Place, Playden, East Sussex: the entrance front


RIBA4922Saltcote Place, Playden, East Sussex: the garden front

 
RIBA4923Planter

 
RIBA4924St James' Park football stadium, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: the stand


RIBA4925St James' Park football stadium, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: elevated view of the stand and surrounding buildings

 
RIBA4926North Lees Hall, Hathersage: the hall and oak stairway

 
RIBA4927Jane Jacobs