Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

04 September 2023

Recording of the week: Architect Kate Macintosh discusses Dawson's Heights in East Dulwich

Dawson's Heights

In my spare time I have often pondered what would count as the ‘Seven Wonders of South London’. The Catford Cat and the Croydon IKEA towers no doubt, but the Crystal Palace transmitter and the Crystal Palace dinosaurs? And how do you separate the component parts of Greenwich?

For this blog I asked some friends and got a wide range of answers including (in alphabetical order): Borough Market, Camberwell Submarine, Cross Bones Graveyard, Crossness Pumping Station, Croydon Boxpark, Cutty Sark, Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens, Horniman Museum Walrus, London Eye, Mandela Way T-34 Tank, Millennium Dome, Nunhead Cemetery and the Richmond Park deer.

Regardless, in my own list I would make a case for Dawson's Heights in East Dulwich, designed by the architect Kate Macintosh. Dawson's Heights was built between 1968 and 1972, at the start of Macintosh's career but towards the end of the post-war boom in council house building. The estate sits atop a large hill and is visible from many directions; it’s for this reason that of the approximately 300 flats, two thirds were designed with views in both directions and all with views to the north. To do this Macintosh used a ziggurat scheme and, if nothing else, Dawson’s Heights must certainly have introduced many people to the word ziggurat.

Kate Macintosh was interviewed by Geraint Franklin in 2016 for the National Life Stories oral history project Architects' Lives. The interview is over 22 hours long and contains fascinating insights into her various works, including, of course, Dawson’s Heights. What I found particularly interesting was Macintosh’s description of how she deliberately based her designs for the estate on the ‘advantages’ and ‘specificities’ of the site, particularly the ‘stupendous views’. It’s this that led to her design winning out in an internal competition that had been arranged by Southwark Borough Architect and Planner, Frank Hayes.

Listen to Kate Macintosh

Download Kate Macintosh interview transcript

At later points in the interview Macintosh goes further into the inspirations for Dawson’s Heights, including Park Hill in Sheffield and Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s seminal sociological study, ‘Family and Kinship in East London’ – you can find oral histories with Michael Young by searching C1416/17 and C408/012 on our catalogue. Macintosh also describes how she built a model of the site to present at Hayes’ internal competition. Today you don’t need to do that yourself, Dawson’s Heights is so renowned that you can buy paper kits online and build your own miniature estate.

Kate Macintosh’s full life story interviewed can be listened to online at British Library sounds. The recording in the blog was edited from Part 9 of 17. The interview can be found in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue by searching C467/132 on our catalogue.

Today's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Archivist, Oral History.