Open House Weekend in London

London is a massive city filled with buildings and spaces. Some of these are open to the public: anyone can visit Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey any time they like, but what about the huge number of buildings and spaces whose doors are always locked? How do we discover their secrets?

Well, ever since 1992, for one weekend in September, some of these amazing spaces open their doors to the public when the annual Open House weekend takes place. Buildings and houses, gardens and spaces, and palaces and terraces which are usually closed to the public open themselves up for visitors for one weekend and the Open House weekend has become the greatest architectural festival in the world. Over 750 venues are open as well as walks, talks and tours taking place. The best part is, it’s completely free. The scheme has been so successful that over thirty cities worldwide now also hold Open House weekends. Perhaps your city does too?

There are so many different types of places you can visit that the organisers group the buildings available into various themes.

Venues classed as ‘design for living’ show how old buildings such as churches or old factories can be changed to become shared living or working spaces and how smaller spaces can be made bigger. With the population of London standing at 8 million and rising, the pressure on space is increasing all the time, and designers have to think about the long-term needs of the city. Modern housing estates like St John’s Hill or the Tin House show how designers are changing the city around us to help accommodate more people.

With such a growing city, engineering is fundamental to the city’s growth and functioning: it touches almost every aspect of our lives, from water to waste, from energy to transport. Buildings and venues classed under the ‘how the city works’ category explore these themes more. From the new splendour of St Pancras station to special boat tours of the Olympic park, the spaces you visit in this category challenge the way you look at town planning and long-term development.

The landscape and green spaces of our city are explored in venues classed as ‘London landscapes’. We have a growing awareness of the importance of our green spaces (London is the greenest city in the world for its size) and how these areas relate to each other. As pressure on space increases, green spaces become more important. The spaces on show reflect some of the successful projects that have already been undertaken. The Derbyshire Street pocket park, for example, shows how a dead-end road that was only a car park has been transformed into a community park area. A riverside stroll around the Olympic Park takes in the character of the area before the Olympics developments and looks at the massive changes in the area since the Games.

London is a modern, dynamic city that faces modern problems and ‘a greener city’ venues and spaces look at how environmental design solutions are helping London to stay one of the greenest cities in the world. These venues are all taking significant steps in creating sustainable spaces for people to work and live in. Newly constructed buildings demonstrate how green issues are being considered while adapted buildings such as the Gogglebox (a glass extension to a 1930s house) show how the old is being changed to the new.

The Open House weekend is a chance to see parts of London you would never normally be allowed to see and takes place this weekend (17th & 18th September). With so much on offer to visit and see, there’s no excuse to get involved and go and see something.

By Lee Arnott

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