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HEATHER BUCHANAN | PHOTOGRAPHER | COPYWRITER

LONDON • REMOTE

THE HEIGHTS OF MACINTOSH

 

Venturing out of the city centre to South East London, we are greeted by a less familiar London skyline yet one that holds significance for the city’s architectural history. Designed by Scottish architect, Kate Macintosh in 1966, Dawson Heights is a remarkable and prevailing presence that has dominated the local skyline since.

 

Graduating from Edinburgh School of Art, a creditable feat in itself, Macintosh surpassed her male architecture counterparts and aged 26, was hired by Southwark council to design the social housing scheme in Dulwich. 

 

Evident in the stepped blocks and staggered facade, Macintosh had taken influences from ancient Ziggurats architecture and the surrounding local landscape. In addition to this, she had looked to other social housing projects such as Park Hill in Sheffield. Through this, Macintosh succeeded in creating a 12-storey, hill-top modernist masterpiece.

 

Macintosh purposefully set out to design a building that balances functionality with spectacular architectural design. In past interviews, Macintosh has discussed the dual functionality of the private balconies: “All balconies are private (i.e. are accessed from one dwelling), but all have a dual function, as secondary means of escape, in this way protecting them from the depredations of the accountants."

 

This balance of utility and aesthetics expands out from the buildings - with the car parks and private garages located at the back of the buildings, allowing space for a community garden between the two buildings.

 

Due to their high vantage point, the two mirroring buildings can be admired from many different locations, from neighbouring Horniman Gardens to Peckham Rye. While during daylight hours, Dawson Heights mimics the natural gradients of the landscape, after sunset, the buildings take on the form of two ships passing in the night.

 

Macintosh has since gone on to design other public buildings around the country, including schools, playgrounds and fire stations. One notable project is 269 Leigham Court Road, sheltered housing for the elderly built in 1968. Although not as sizable as Dawson Heights, Leighham Court Road later became a grade II listed building and received significant acclaim, described by the Guardian as ‘a modernist gem.’