Architecture for the people: the rise of Open House Worldwide

Cheesegrater building, Leadenhall Street, London

By Oliver Wainwright
September 15, 2014.

From London to Brisbane to Buenos Aires, architecture enthusiasts all over the globe get set to nose around in the world’s greatest buildings for free

The gilded opulence of a Buenos Aires ballroom, the hidden tunnels beneath Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, and the cavernous innards of the biggest gasometers in Europe are some of the off-limits sites that can be glimpsed around the world this autumn, thanks to the growing phenomenon of the Open House weekend.

The initiative, which began in London in 1992 and celebrates its 22nd edition this week, has since spawned a global network of over 20 cities, from Barcelona to Brisbane, Tel Aviv to Thessaloniki, joined in the last couple years by Gdynia in Poland and the Cypriot capital of Nicosia. The combined programme now includes thousands of buildings and locations, from the lavish halls of embassies and parliaments, to the industrial heft of cement factories and sewage treatment plants, as well as micro-flats and self-build housing schemes, with the number of participating cities expanding year upon year.

“They’re like feral cats, they just keep on arriving,” says Victoria Thornton, who founded the initiative as a “mad idea” to get people more interested in their surroundings, beginning by knocking on doors and pestering building owners herself. The London weekend has since ballooned into a city-wide festival of more than 800 locations, manned by an enthusiastic army of 2,000 volunteers.

This year, the old crowd-drawing favourites of the Foreign Office, Bank of England and Gherkin are joined by the Cheesegrater tower by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners. Each are expected to attract over 5,000 visitors, lured by the thrill of waltzing past security barriers and peering behind locked doors. Read more…