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


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