One of the capital’s richest, most pervasive and satisfying annual events, 2021 Open House London is upon us. The festival, which started in 1992 as a long weekend of activities but now lasts nine days of architectural fun, is diverse, informative and entertaining – and puts the audience at heart. From September 4 to 12, London architecture is unfolding for our pleasure and our learning in its 33 boroughs.
Well-known public spaces with forgotten or hidden gems, and modernist private homes that would normally be off limits to visitors to entire neighborhoods which are now revisited through tours and experiences that shed new light on their history and pure presence – this is the architectural celebration that has it all. And above all, it wants to be open and accessible to all. This year, a new book, Public House, a Cultural and Social History of the London Pub, celebrating over 120 remarkable pubs, accompanies the wealth of digital and physical events.
Here are some of the many highlights of the Open House London program to attend and enjoy.
Design District, Greenwich
The Design District of London brings together creators and thinkers from the fields of design, art, technology, food, fashion, crafts and music in one development, offering a an impressive 134,000 square foot workspace for some 1,800 creatives – from start-ups and individual manufacturers to last names. Led by local developer Knight Dragon (also behind urban additions such as The Tide by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which opened to the public last year), and designed in partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA) , the project is a composition of 16 people, architectural buildings led by eight different architects on a plot of one hectare. The device is expected to open this fall.
Tours will be announced on the Open House Festival website
10 Downing Street by Christopher Wren and others, Westminster
You don’t have to be an architecture buff to know number 10 Downing Street. It has been the residence of British prime ministers since 1735, originally designed by Christopher Wren in the 15th century, and renovated decades later by William Kent. The building features an impressive three-story stone staircase, and if you were ever curious about what goes on inside this mighty gate, now’s your chance.
Visit tickets are allocated by lot and take place on Saturday, September 4.
Town Hall by Foster + Partners, Southwark
The town hall was built in 2002 on a project of Foster + Partners. It sits adjacent to Tower Bridge and features a distinctive curved shape and dominant internal ramp – a visual shortcut for the building, which wraps around and above the main debate room, where Mayor Sadiq Khan meets the members of the London Assembly. It was recently announced that the GLA is moving (and moving to the docks), so this might be the last chance to explore it during the Open House Festival – don’t miss it.
Visitors are welcome from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday September 4th
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London
In the heart of London, this famous cultural institution houses the City of London art collection. The richly designed building features Portland stone and Collyweston stone slate on the facade, marble, American elm, damask and painted wall coverings on the interior, and is built on the remains of the 2nd Century Roman Amphitheater in London.
Free guided tours take place every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:15 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. There is a limited capacity for walk-in tours, reservation is recommended
Holborn House by 6a Architects, Camden
6a is one of London’s most exciting and famous architectural practices and this highly anticipated redevelopment for the Holborn Community Association is one of his most recent works. The firm’s founders, Tom Emerson and Stephanie Macdonald, do wonders using their singular approach to a sensitive, almost ethereal design that mixes the old and the new.
Tours for up to 25 people will take place every half hour on Saturday September 4 and Sunday September 5.
Mount Pleasant Homeless Shelter by Peter Barber Architects, Camden
An important design for an equally large organization, this is to reinvent an old Victorian work house into a contemporary installation for 50 homeless people. Its author, the famous British architect Peter Barber, combines the old and the new with a strategic molding of the interior and exterior space, all arranged around a central courtyard.
Guided tours by architects and municipal staff will take place on September 4 and 5
South Norwood Library by Croydon Architects Department, Croydon
This London classic was designed by Hugh Lea, Borough Architect for Croydon, in 1968. Created as a specially designed bookcase with a square glass outline contrasted by a pronounced, opaque monolithic top volume, it is one of the sub-popular examples of brutalism. Still popular and busy to this day, the building is brilliantly and naturally illuminated, creating an exciting dialogue between concrete and light.
The library will be open to visitors until 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays September 4 and 11
St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Maggie’s Center by Steven Holl, City of London
When New York architect Steven Holl began to put together ideas for Maggie’s newest cancer care center at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, he knew the structure was going to be a central part of a much larger story. long. Adjacent to the 18th-century stone building by architect James Gibbs, Maggie’s Center Barts design reveals a softened and translucent exterior by day, contrasting with its lantern state by night; an intentional feature that Holl says sets the health center apart from the medieval structures that surround it.
Early evening tours of Maggie’s Barts will take place on September 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Barth’s North Wing, including the Hogarth Staircase, will be open all day Sunday, September 5
The George Inn, Southwark
Historic architecture is celebrated together with London’s Modernist heritage in the Open House program, catering to all needs and tastes and opening up endless possibilities for dialogue around the built environment. An example of period works on display is the George Inn, a National Trust post house. The George is one of 120 pubs celebrated in the aforementioned book Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub.
The George is open throughout the Open House London Festival and will occasionally offer behind-the-scenes tours of the building during the nine-day program.
Trellick Tour by Ernő Goldfinger, Kensington and Chelsea
Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower is an undeniable landmark in London. Its 31 floors, visible from afar, and its brutalist nature, make this 1972 social housing project an immediately recognizable piece of architecture – from its stand-alone service tower and boiler room to its balcony grid and the use of the concrete.
Guided tours by residents will take place on Sunday, September 12, marking the last day of the festival
Self-built street Walters Way, Lewisham
“In 1979, a group of families from south London had the opportunity to build their own timber frame townhouses in collaboration with pioneering German architect Walter Segal,” says the Open House guide. This unique street of low two-story houses is now a strong community of architecture lovers, and it’s an opportunity to see it up close.
Walters Way will host an open house on Sunday, September 5, featuring guided tours by residents and the launch of a new book on the street