What follows are my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the C20th society

Dawson Heights. Architect Kate Macintosh here seen revisiting the building she designed in the 1960s.

Great lady, great building,  . . . today the C20th Society went on a tour of buildings in South London culminating with Dawson Heights

Dawson Heights taken from Google Earth – click photo for larger image

Kate Macintosh gave a talk outside the flats at Dawson Heights in which she mentioned the several influences on her design.  The first was the site which is layered clay and subject to slippage and the tip in the middle that had been there many years.

Click photo for larger image

She acknowledged that the piles went down 80 feet and that the site was extensively drained in order to keep it stable but admitted that movement could still be seen on the approach paths and that the clay was allowed to move between the piles.

“If any hon. Member would like to see something comparable to Aberfan he can do so within five miles of Parliament at Dawson Hill, in South-East Camberwell, where very much the same thing has happened.

The corporation had been tipping rubbish for a generation; there was water and about 40 houses were swept away, luckily with no loss of life, and three streets have been at risk at the bottom of the hill.

In the light of what had happened at Aberfan, Southwark Council very sensibly called in a geological concern—and I must declare an interest, because I have worked with that concern for the last 20 years—and the council has put the matter right in a reasonably short time.”

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1967/oct/26/aberfan-disaster

[On a related note I am led to believe the Sacré Coeur in Paris stands on piles on a hill that has less to do with supporting it than might first appear to be the case – Ed.]

Click photo for larger image

Kate said that at the time of design, in the mid-1960s the Government was insisting that all social housing be system built and in order to avoid the uniformity of the resulting designs, she found it necessary to plead her case however Ronan Point occurred in the meantime and system building fell from favour, she was then able to go ahead with a less uniform design than might otherwise have been the case.

Click photo for larger image

Kate said that Richard Crossman, the Labour housing minister then in charge had ruled out balconies for social housing but she wanted to include them in the design and succeeded in doing so by making them fire escapes to the adjoining flats by incorporating an emergency glass panel with the result that every flat subsequently has its own balcony.

Click photo for larger image

She said that by staggering the layout, ziggurat was the word she used, she was able to obtain views both ways for 2/3 of the flats and a view to the North for all the flats.  Kate added that by adjusting the heights of the blocks she was able to ensure that every flat received winter sunlight even at midwinter.

Imposing view from Overhill Road – click photo for larger image

Kate mentioned the two overhead walkways that were originally part of the construction but which were subsequently removed as part of Alice Coleman’s designing out crime initiatives under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.  Kate was sorry they had been removed because they framed the central green courtyard containing the overlooked play spaces for children. She also mentioned trees that had been there to begin with but would appear to have been removed.

She said that she had been keen to make the best use of the site to take advantage of the views for as many people as possible, and in this would appear to have succeeded.


The Hill

A description of the hill by the engineer who specified the foundations:-

http://www.dulwichsociety.com/newsletters/43-spring-2006/213-dawson-hill-before-dawson-heights

and I found this while researching the history of the Aberfan disaster for the 50th anniversary:-

Hansard Aberfan debate 1967

“It has been suggested that this was a very complex geological problem; it was not. Tips are not complex geological problems and advice about the movement of earth and the science of soil mechanics was available from any private engineering firm.

If any hon. Member would like to see something comparable to Aberfan he can do so within five miles of Parliament at Dawson Hill, in South-East Camberwell, where very much the same thing has happened.

The corporation had been tipping rubbish for a generation; there was water and about 40 houses were swept away, luckily with no loss of life, and three streets have been at risk at the bottom of the hill. In the light of what had happened at Aberfan, Southwark Council very sensibly called in a geological concern—and I must declare an interest, because I have worked with that concern for the last 20 years—and the council has put the matter right in a reasonably short time.”

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1967/oct/26/aberfan-disaster

More information from Kate Macintosh via Tom Cordell:-

“The hill was in part made up from soil extracted from the Crystal Palace hill when the railway tunnels there were constructed in the mid C19th. The contractor was one Mr Dawson, hence the name. (There were two competing rail routes build to Crystal Palace, and I don’t know which set of tunnels.

One of the actions to stabilise Dawson’s hill in the mid 60s was to remove the loose soil from the top of the hill. No idea where it was sent to. Then deep vertical piles were driven into the hill to take the load of the building. The quantity surveyor was required to go to the bottom of each drive before the concrete was poured – Kate didn’t envy him in this task. A similar scale of piles would have been required for a single story or a high building, making a building of the scale of Dawson’s Heights the best option economically.

I asked her about the Aberfan connection and she said she knew that lots of houses were condemned on Dawson’s hill due to subsidence, so the story seems true. I said 40 and she said that was quite possible.” – Tom Cordell


Panorama

I took a panoramic series of shots which I have successfully managed to stitch together with the software supplied with my Canon IXUS 95, a great little pocket sized digital camera.  The panorama is a 10Mb download and covers 180 degrees looking North from the top floor of the block.

Download panorama small 2.72Mb

Download panorama large 10.16Mb


Links

Note that Kate Macintosh is interviewed in a documentary entitled Utopia London by Tom Cordell.

http://www.utopialondon.com/dawson-heights/

An article by Kate Macintosh from SGR where she used to work:-

http://www.sgr.org.uk/sites/sgr.org.uk/files/SGR_NL37_KMarticle.pdf

Is it possible to visit Dawson Heights and not to fall in love with it? Read the following blog posts and decide

Owen Hatherley

http://nastybrutalistandshort.blogspot.com/2009/06/behind-privet-hedges-utopia.html

You, You, Idiot

http://youyouidiot.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/trip-to-se22.html

My friend’s house

What did you do at 26?

Municipal Dreams has written about Dawson’s Heights

https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/dawsons-heights-east-dulwich-an-example-of-the-almost-lost-art-of-romantic-townscape/

Some more photographs here:-

http://lovelondoncouncilhousing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/overhill-estate.html

Not listed

http://www.c20society.org.uk/casework/dawsons-heights-the-italian-hill-town-in-dulwich/

http://www.urban75.net/forums/threads/best-views-from-around-brixton-streatham-west-norwood-etc.314486/

3 Responses to “Dawson’s Heights Estate – C20th Society walk”

  1. Diamond Says:

    I absolutely love this estate and have read lots about Kate Macintosh, I really enjoyed reading this, I would like to meet this lady, to design such am impressive estate when she was so young is quite something. Hope to be buying a flat there soon, thank you for what you wrote, I enjoyed it….very interesting.

  2. Single Aspect Says:

    Well if you ever get a flat there please consider inviting me over for a cup of tea, I would accept and would like the chance to add to my article from the inside out as it were.

  3. Diamond Says:

    I have been in two of the flats on this estate already and they are really good inside, very spacious and the views across London are utterly beautiful…mesmerising.If I buy there yes you can have a cup of tea!

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