Open House London celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! That’s 25 years of making architecture free and accessible to Londoners and the 19 million tourists who visit this beautiful city every year.
The first Open House London was organised by Victoria Thornton on 7th November 1992. It comprised of just 20 buildings. This weekend over 800 homes, museums, schools, palaces, embassies, and many more will open their doors to the public for free! The range of buildings available is simply astounding, and a little daunting when it comes to choosing where to go first, so I’ve made a list of some of my favourites, some of the essentials and some more unusual buildings slightly off the beaten track!
My top tip for the weekend is to volunteer! You get to explore a new building that you might not have chosen otherwise, and to contribute to such a wonderful, educational two days of fun! When you volunteer you also get a badge that lets you queue jump at other sites (except those with pre-booked tours, or public ballots). Trust me, it’s worth it, especially when venues such as The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can have queues going around the block! Oh, and did I mention the volunteers party, where you can meet other like-minded architecture nerds! Sign up here!
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Open both Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a must-see! Built in 1861 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Matthew Digby Wyatt the gorgeous Durbar Court will have you gazing around in awe (it’s also highly instagrammable, for those of you that way inclined). The Grade I listed Victorian building has plenty to see and do, see if you can spot all 12 signs of the Zodiac in one of the ceilings! It’s a fantastic insight into the running of our government, and not usually open to the public, so don’t miss out!
Crystal Palace Subway
The Crystal Palace Subway in Bromley was originally built as a passageway leading directly from High Level Station to the Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1854. The subway itself was constructed in 1865 under architect Charles Barry Junior. Not normally open to the public you can step into Victorian life! The subway is open all weekend from 11am-4pm, however a capacity of 80 means queues are likely!
Lloyd’s Register Group
Perhaps one of the most photographed and shared buildings in the City, although I swear there’s a new building popping up every week! The original late Victorian building, designed by Thomas Collcutt, was extended by Richard Rogers Partnership, winning a RIBA award! Although only limited areas are open to the public you can hear a lecture about Richard Rogers’ expansion every half hour. Download the Open House app to see all the other buildings nearby to visit while you’re there! N.B. Lloyd’s Building is only open Saturday 10am-5pm.
Hackney Empire was somewhat of an accidental discovery! I signed up to volunteer late last year, and figured as a somewhat of a theatre-holic it would be interesting to see it behind the scenes! What a wonderful surprise! Built the same year as the original Lloyd’s building (1901) Frank Matcham’s Hackney Empire is considerably different inside, see how many Art Deco features you can spot! The Hackney Empire was built and used as a Variety Theatre before falling into disrepair. Only 1 tour is running this year, at 9am on Saturday. Book here.
The Geffrye Museum is situated in Hackney, and open Saturday 10am-4:30pm, a perfect secondary location to visit after a tour of the Hackney Empire! The Geffrey Museum is situated in an old Alms house, and currently houses a museum dedicated to the history of the middling class, and how their homes have changed over the past couple of centuries. Usually free to enter, the staff are running object handling sessions.
Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue Wanstead
The Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue is open Sunday from 10am-4pm. The Synagogue building was originally part of the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum, designed by Somers Clarke, dating back to the 19th century. The rest of the Asylum has since been converted to flats. The building used to house the chapel, and the signs are evident in the architecture and embellishments around the walls. It was converted into a synagogue in 1995. The volunteers here are extremely knowledgeable, and it’s a nice, unusual building.
The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge.
Another slightly out-of-the-way building, but a must-see for any 20th century history enthusiasts! It was built in 1939, and was part of the main control centre coordinating one of the greatest aerial battles in history! Open both days, 10am-5pm pre-booking is required so check out the Open House website for more details!
Crossrail Place Roof Garden
This year Foster + Partners are celebrating their 50th birthday this year, and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a shining example of their beautiful architecture! Situated in Canary Wharf, atop the new station, it is a beautiful partnership of architecture and nature. The garden was a collaboration between Foster+ Partners and landscape designer Gillespies Landscape Architects. Gillespies are hosting hourly tours between 10am and 4pm on Saturday.
Designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1972, Trellick Tower has become a sacred site for Brutalism enthusiasts! Now a Grade II listed property it encompasses exhibition and education, housing a woodworking workshop, as well as a furniture showcase. Trellick Tower is open Saturday 10:30am – 6pm, and Sunday 11am – 5pm. If you’re a fan of Brutalism you could also check out the Embassy of Slovakia, a RIBA Award winning Modern Brutalist building also situated in Kensington and Chelsea.
I hope you found this mini guide helpful! Let me know what your favourite buildings were this weekend, and any I should add to my list for next year!
Happy Architecture Hunting!!
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