For one weekend in September around 750 buildings, new and old, open their doors to visitors. Many are usually closed to the public. And do you know what the best part is? It's all free. Yes, all buildings, usually including the London Eye (at selected tour times), are free for us to enjoy.
The aim of Open House London is to encourage us all to recognize good architectural design and to explore buildings and be able to appreciate what good design means.
(Note: 'Open House' are now calling themselves 'Open City' but it's the same event.)
2013 News: Battersea Power Station will host site visits as part of Open House for the first time - the last opportunity to see one of London's most iconic buildings before it undergoes a vibrant redevelopment across the full 38 acre site.
Open House London Buildings Guide
What they don't tell you is that you can pick up a copy of the Guide for free from all London public libraries. The Guide is available to buy/download/pick up from mid-August as Open House London is always on the third weekend in September and many buildings have tours you need to pre-book.
Transport for London's (TfL) Journey Planner is always a great resource for finding the best route from one destination to another. A superb feature is the option to choose postcodes to plan your journey from one building to the next on your list. Journey Planner also offers a text message (SMS) service so you can get routes sent straight to your mobile phone. Simply send a text (SMS) message to: 60835 with the two building's postcodes and you'll receive a free text message with the route details. (Example: SW1A 4BC to NW1 5DG.) Texts to 60835 are charged at your network operator's standard rate.
Planning for Open House London
Check the dates for this year and the Open House London Basics.
It's important to get hold of a copy of the Open House London Buildings Guide early (from mid-August) so you can pre-book the tours that really interest you as they have very limited places. Not all places need to be booked so it's best to go through the Guide marking your faves and then try to make as many bookings are possible. Once you've got some bookings you can plan your days with the other buildings you want to see that are open all day.
Check the Open House website a few days before the event as any withdrawals of participating buildings will be listed, so you don't have a wasted journey.
Just as you would for a London walking tour, wear comfortable shoes and don't take a huge bag as you'll be carrying it all day. Along with your copy of The Open House London Guide, you'll need an A-Z, a Travelcard for hopping on and off tubes and buses, a mobile phone for those all-important Journey Planner text alerts (see above), and a bottle of water.
Highlights for 2012This is the 20th anniversary and 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is undoubtedly the biggest highlight. This year's theme 'The Changing Face of London' explores issues that are relevant to local communities and how the built environment is evolving – including the design of homes, the impact of climate change, the role of architects and contemporary design in revitalising places and above all showing how good design can make London a more liveable, vibrant and enjoyable city.
- Highlights to include:
- Landmarks and towers including 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) and Heron Tower
- London's infrastructure revealed with the Institution of Civil Engineers - including boat tours to the Thames Barrier and beyond, engineering walks and site visits to major construction and engineering sites
- Over fifty Landscape related projects with the Landscape Institute
- A look at what the Olympic legacy will mean beyond the boundaries of the Park
- Open Embassies with the British Council’s International Architecture and Design Showcase, part of the Cultural Olympiad
- Architects' homes and groundbreaking housing developments
- Eco, zero carbon and retrofit buildings with the Green Sky Thinking program
- Planners, architects and engineers on how they create successful cities
- Maggie's and Open House London Night Hike on Friday 21st September, an opportunity to see Open House architecture by night and raise money for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centers
- Special events and openings on Saturday night
- 20 years of Open House celebrated with special hardback book, published by Ebury Press and in major bookshops from 17 August, giving an insight into 100 Open House buildings; plus the Open House Memory Bank on facebook
- Open House app for iphone from the appstore
- Photography competition
Open House London includes such diverse buildings as offices, residential homes, sports clubs, and government buildings.
I love Open House London and have visited many unusual buildings over the years. Some of my personal favorites have been:
- Canada House
Takes up the west side of Trafalgar Square.
- Freemason's Hall
- Sir John Soane's Museum
Although this is open outside of Open House London.
- Bank of England
This has a fantastic tour and the queues move quickly so don't be put off.
- Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
A 1740s Huguenot silk merchant's house.
- William Morris Gallery
Again open outside of Open House London.
- Government Art Collection
A chance to see the government-owned artworks that are not on display in government buildings.
- Brixton Windmill
Who would have thought you'd find windmill from 1816 in Brixton?
- Wimbledon Windmill
I think I just love the idea of windmills in London!
- 15 and a half Consort Road
An amazing home with an opening roof and a sliding bath.
- Jewel Tower
Built in 1365 and part of the Palace of Westminster - used as the ticket office for the Houses of Parliament Tour
- Mansion House
Residence of the City of London's Lord Mayor.
- St. Martin-in-the-Fields
One of Britain's finest churches in Trafalgar Square.
- St. Anne's Tower
An interesting tower in the heart of Soho.
- William Morris Society - Kelmscott House
Again this is open outside of Open House London.
- St. Botolph's Aldgate
I was taken to the bell tower and watched English bell-ringers.
- Guildhall and the Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman London's Amphitheatre
- The Willis Building
Distinctive stepped formed glass structure. Surpasses statutory carbon reduction targets by more than 20 per cent.
- The Gherkin
One of the latest London landmarks to grace the skyline.
- Centre Point
Over 30 floors in the center of the West End, overlooking Oxford Street.
- 2 Willow Road
Unique and influential Modernist home from 1939.