“Dawson’s Heights: Hilltop Community” at the RIBA London

This display of 20 previously unseen photographs focuses on Dawson’s Heights in south London, designed by architect Kate Macintosh. It features images originally commissioned from former journalist and photographer Sam Lambert for the Architects’ Journal.


Dawson’s Heights. Photo by Robert Kirkman. 1973 © RIBA


Dawson’s Heights was a large-scale experiment in British social housing design completed by Kate Macintosh at the age of 27 on behalf of London borough of Southwark’s Architect’s Department. Described as one of the most remarkable housing developments in post-war Britain and much loved by its residents, it was nevertheless turned down for listing in 2012.


 Practical Information

“Dawson’s Heights: Hilltop Community”
29 November, 2018 – 2 February, 2019
RIBA Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place, London
United Kingdom


These photographs are taken from the RIBA Architectural Press Archive, a collection of over 600,000 images taken for publication in the Architects’ Journal and Architectural Review between 1930 and 1980. As it is catalogued and digitised, images such as these are being rediscovered by a new audience. You can view more images of Dawson’s Heights online at RIBApix.


Dawson’s Heights. Photo by Robert Kirkman. 1973 © RIBA

Dawson’s Heights. Photo by Simon Phipps © RIBA


Dawson’s Heights: Hilltop Community complements A Home For All: Six Experiments in Social Housing, a RIBA + V&A display in the architecture gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Drawn from the RIBA Collection of drawings, photographs and models as well as the archives of the V&A the display focuses on innovation in British social housing projects from the early 20th century to the present day and is on view from 24 November 2018 to 30 June 2019.


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.


Dawson’s Heights viewed from Overhill Rd. Photo by Robert Kirkman. 1973 © RIBA

Dawson’s Heights. Photo by Robert Kirkman. 1973 © RIBA


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.



General plan of block at ground level and Section A-A. AJ, vol 157, no. 17, 1973 © AJ


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.


Dawson’s Heights © Modernist States

Dawson’s Heights © Modernist States


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.


Dawson’s Heights © Modernist States


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.


News source: RIBA 
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