Shows and events
Matthew Pearson

Open House London 2019

Open House London has been operating since 1992, but the last couple of years have seen the architecture festival establish itself as a prominent permanent fixture on London’s cultural calendar.

  • Usually held on the third weekend of September, Open House London 2019 will see buildings across the capital throw open their doors to the general public.
  • It offers free access and both self-guided and guided tours.
  • It's primarily a festival of architecture: the weekend showcases many buildings and built areas which possess a cultural significance that goes beyond their design.
  • The festival showcases buildings that are instrumental to the running of the country or city, the former abodes of rich and famous Londoners or the headquarters of key cultural, industrial or economic institutions.
  • Each year, over a quarter of a million people turn out for the weekend.
With over 800 buildings, walks, tours and talks to choose from, you’ll find plenty to suit your tastes and interests, whatever they may be. Check with the Open House London 2019 listings website to plan your weekend in detail. To give you a taste of the kind of places you could be visiting during Open House London 2019 (Saturday 21st, Sunday 22nd September), here are some of the buildings and tours we’re excited about visiting this year...

Camden Highline

Join Project Manager Adam Richards for a walk and a talk through this ambitious planned public ‘park in the sky’. The Camden Highline is seeking to emulate the success of the famous New York High Line. It aims to do this by renovating a disused section of railway track between Camden and King’s Cross. Richards will introduce you to the history of the track and the project that aims to repurpose it into a raised garden walkway. The walk takes place on ground level as the project has not the ground yet. But with backing from Mayor Sadiq Khan, the sky’s the limit. How do I book my slot? The walk starts from Camden Gardens on Camden Street, Saturday and Sunday at 9.30am, 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm. It ends on Camley Street. It’s about 1.5km in total and will last approximately an hour. Pre-booking is essential. Check the Open House London 2019 website for more details. Contact info@camdenhighline in advance if you have any access issues you would like to check with the team.

10 Downing Street

Ever heard of it? No, us neither. But apparently it’s an underground architectural smash. It’s the terrace house behind whose black door everything is being sorted out and it’s all going to be absolutely fine, forever and ever when they’re done. They’re just ironing out the details. But soon: perfection. Come and see for yourself during a tour of 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister, whomever s/he is at any given time. It has been since 1735, when Number 10 was given an extensive refurb by architect William Kent. How do I book my slot? Go and give a wave to the PM on September 21-22nd. You have to enter the online ballot to be in with a chance of winning a tour. You can do so here. Other buildings visitable through public ballot include Renzo Piano’s The Shard and the BT Tower. Get on the Open House 2019 website to sign up to the ballots. You can enter details for a second guest too, so you don’t have to be admiring any views without an accomplice.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Designed by architect George Gilbert Scott, who was also responsible for the Albert Memorial that sits across from the Royal Albert Hall, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office used to house four separate departments of state. The Open House route allows you to see the offices of two of them: the old Foreign office and the former India Office. Highlights of the self-guided tour include the imposing Durbar Court, the Grand Staircase and the Locarno Suite. Areas of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building are still in full-time use by civil servants...have a chat with one of the employees volunteering on the day to learn about day-to-day life in the modern office. Year in, year out, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a favourite on the Open House London line up. It’s back for Open House London 2019 for all those who’ve missed out in previous years. Be warned: it's a very popular choice, with around 6,000 visitors each day during Open House London 2018. How do I see it? The queues can be pretty punishing unless you get there nice and early, or towards the end of the day when you’ll have just long enough for a quick runaround.

Brunel Museum

Discover the world’s first underwater tunnel on a visit to the Brunel Museum this Open House weekend. Designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and constructed with his Isambard Kingdom Brunel as Chief Engineer, this is a fantastic place to understand the famous engineering family and their legacy on London, the UK and the wider world. The history of this engineering first is tragic, with the tunnel breached by the river, multiple explosions and horrendous working conditions leading to a number of worker deaths. But it’s also inspiring, as problems with the project necessitated revolutionary answers that helped inform all subsequent underground and through-water engineering. The world’s first underwater thoroughfare opened in 1843 after a construction period lasting nearly 20 years. It was initially used as a pedestrian walkway and underwater shopping arcade. Then railway companies used it for sidings. The London Underground bought it in 1865. It is the oldest tunnel in the world’s oldest underground rail system, which is testament to the superior nature of its design and the workmanship that made it a reality. How do I see it? The Brunel Museum is one of a number of sites open for a fee throughout the year, but totally free on Open House weekend. You get to access the main shaft used during the construction process and even enjoy a train tour of the tunnel itself. Train tours run every 60 minutes between 11am and 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday.

2 Willow Road

Designed by Ernö Goldfinger as his super-villain base. You may recognise it as the place where the gold-obsessed psychopath famously tied nemesis James Bond to a cutting table and threatened him with an industrial laser. 2 Willow Road is... No, of course not. Different Goldfinger. This Goldfinger was a Modernist architect and 2 Willow Road is his wonderfully well-preserved Modern Movement house. It comes complete with many of his and his family’s art pieces, belongings and furniture. The Hungarian architect designed the house to be flexible, use space efficiently and grab all the sun it could during the day. Interestingly enough, Goldfinger was the inspiration behind the famous Bond villain, at least in name. Bond author Ian Fleming was a Hampstead neighbour of Ernö Goldfinger. The architect even brought legal action against the author over use of his name, and the possibility that his character was being slighted by association. The issue was eventually settled out of court, with Goldfinger receiving his legal costs and six copies of the novel. He also received a promise that the character’s first name, Auric, would be forever joined with his last. Fleming at one point suggested renaming the character. His suggestion: Goldprick. Imagine that. Bond vs. Goldprick. What a world that would’ve been. How do I get in? You can visit 2 Willow Road on both Saturday and Sunday during Open House London 2019. You need a timed entry ticket (one per person), which will give you a time slot. 20 people can access at any one time and the home is open for self-guided viewing only. 2 Willow Road opens at 11am and closes at 5pm, with last entry at 4.20pm.

Any Suggestions?

Let us know what you have planned for Open House weekend 2019. Simply fill out the comment box below. If London landmarks are your thing, why not see them by boat?
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