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Dawson's Heights

Split between 2 blocks consisting of nearly 300 flats, all with private balconies, Dawson's Heights is a fantastic example of beautifully designed social housing with uninterrupted views of the London skyline.

Architect

Kate Macintosh for Southwark Council Architects Dept

Date

1966-72.

Bredinghurst, Overhill Road, East Dulwich SE22 0PL

Sat 10am-5pm. Half-hourly tours, pre-book ONLY on https://dawsonheightsopenhouse2016.eventbrite.co.uk. Last tour 4.30pm. Max 10 per tour.

Forest Hill, Peckham Rye, East Dulwich

176, 185, 197, P13

  • Access for wheelchair users

DAWSON’S HEIGHTS The estate was conceived when Britain was building council housing on a massive scale, ambitious to clear once and for all the remaining slums (and many did remain) and house all its people decently and comfortably. The best local authority architects and Housing Departments wanted to bring design quality to this numbers game too. In Southwark, the Borough Architect and Planner, Frank Hayes, sought to achieve excellence through in-house competition. Kate Macintosh won the competition to design Dawson_s Heights. She had studied the existing alternatives, for one the five-storey walk-up blocks ubiquitous in London and specifically Speke House in Camberwell (since demolished). Typical of its kind, she thought it _institutional_ _ _all external expression of this is my home, this is where I live was forbidden_. She was critical too of many of the point and slab blocks being built; they were _unrelated to the surrounding urban grain_ and she _found the anonymous grid expression of the exteriors of much LCC work repellent_. In her words, she _absorbed the lessons_ of the far more innovative scheme of Park Hill in Sheffield _but disliked the apparent flattening of the hill produced by the constant height of each meandering super-block_. Dawson_s Heights would be different, not least because of its extraordinary site _ a 13.8 acre hilltop site in East Dulwich: crowned with a refuse tip and ringed by interwar houses now compulsorily purchased but many uninhabitable in any case due to the instability of hillside London clay. These circumstances dictated the basic layout of the new scheme _ two large blocks (Ladlands to the north and Bredinghurst to the south) constructed on the more stable terrain and overlooking a central communal space, formerly the dump. The buildings still required 60-80 feet reinforced concrete cylinders foundations. The siren call of system building was resisted and a superstructure erected of load-bearing cross-walls, of brickwork in the four-storey blocks and of reinforced concrete for all but the top four floors of the higher buildings. Turning to the more creative aspects of the design, Macintosh devised a ziggurat-style scheme which ensured that two thirds of the flats had views in both directions and all had views to the north. The varied height of the blocks, rising to twelve storeys at their central peak, made sure that every flat received sunlight even in deepest midwinter. To the scheme_s advocates _ and perhaps most would agree _ _the warm brick texture_ humanised the fa‡ades and avoided a foreboding monolithic appearance while the staggering of the blocks created _ever changing silhouettes_ adding _the beauty of surprise to a relentless suburb_. English Heritage, whose recommendation for listing was rejected by the Secretary of State, was effusive in its praise: ‘The dramatic stepped hilltop profile is a landmark in SE London, and endows the project with a striking and original massing that possesses evocative associations with ancient cities and Italian hill towns _ The generous balconies with remarkable views and natural light, the warm brick finish and thoughtful planning introduce a real sense of human scale to a monumental social housing scheme.’ see municipaldreams.wordpress.com