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

Feature by Suzanne Waters.

32 items
RIBA121692Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: distant view seen from a mile and a half north (Dog Kennel Hill), augmenting the southern rim of hills

 
RIBA121693Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the dramatic roofline, seen from Dulwich Park

 
RIBA121694Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London, seen from Forest Hill


RIBA121695Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London, seen from nearby cricket ground

 
RIBA121696Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London, seen from the west

 
RIBA121697Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking under the eastern access bridge into the central space


RIBA121698Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking south-west over the central space and children's playground

 
RIBA121699Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking into the central space between the blocks

 
RIBA121700Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking towards the lower blocks


RIBA121701Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking north towards the skyline of Hampstead Heath

 
RIBA121702Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking towards the City of London with the dome of St Paul's in the distance

 
RIBA121703Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking north


RIBA121704Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking north

 
RIBA121705Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the outer face of the staggered blocks

 
RIBA121706Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: detail of the facades and projecting balconies


RIBA121707Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: detail of the facades and projecting balconies

 
RIBA121708Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the central facade with its projecting balconies

 
RIBA121709Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: detail of the facade with its projecting balconies


RIBA121710Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: oblique of the staggered blocks

 
RIBA121711Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the lift and service towers leading to the access galleries

 
RIBA121712Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking down onto the roof of one of the lower blocks


RIBA121713Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking into the central space from one of the access decks

 
RIBA121714Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the lower eastern access deck

 
RIBA121715Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the western access deck


RIBA121716Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: close-up of an access gallery

 
RIBA121717Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: looking towards the access deck from an access gallery

 
RIBA121718Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: one of the access galleries


RIBA121719Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: taking a delivery on one of the access galleries

 
RIBA121720Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: living room in a three-bedroom maisonette

 
RIBA121721Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: living room in a three-bedroom maisonette


RIBA121722Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: the kitchen / diner

 
RIBA121723Dawson's Heights, Overhill Road, Dulwich, London: detail of a bedroom in a two-bedroom flat