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The Telegraph

The surprising slice of Italy in southeast London

Where I live in southeast London, a pair of asymmetrical housing blocks dominate the horizon. They peek over hilltops and around corners. They’re like a portrait whose eyes follow you around a room. The past year has provided the lemons (no travel) to create lemonade (exploring close to home), thus I set out to discover more about Dawson Heights (1964-72), a pair of ziggurats built on a spoil heap. Less well-known than other modernist masterpieces, they’ve become a place of architectural pilgrimage, described as resembling battleships, Italian hilltop towns, castles, and Inca pyramids. The architect, Kate Macintosh, designed Dawson Heights aged only 26. She told me: ‘I studied in Edinburgh, and Georgian Edinburgh, like Georgian London, has many wonderful squares. I was living in Bloomsbury, and I conceived the scale of space being very similar to Tavistock Square.’ Inside are communal gardens, a car-free, emerald-green kernel. Macintosh said: ‘One of my objectives was to have very safe and well supervised central space where children could play. I was immediately struck by the fantastic views from the hill.’ In Edinburgh, Macintosh was used to landmarks: Arthur’s Seat and the crag-top castle. She found 1960s London claustrophobic by comparison. She added: ‘The site foundations were problematic, consisting of unstable London clay, so the site wasn’t attractive to developers.’

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