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Open House London 2017: Freedom of the City

For the first time in its 25-year history, every London borough has signed up for this year’s Open House, with free entry to more than 800 of the city’s most compelling buildings. Highlights this year include the recently revamped New Scotland Yard; London’s latest iconic tower, nicknamed ‘the vase’; an urban farm in Waterloo; an exhibition by starchitect Norman Foster and the gargantuan Francis Crick Institute at King’s Cross.

Tasteful: The Gherkin, masterminded by Foster+Partners architects in 2003 was voted number one in a poll to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Open House

Perhaps 2017 marks the year Londoners started to look at buildings in a different way after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower which claimed 80 lives. Claddings, tower blocks, fire safety, housing inequalities, homelessness, have all become hot talking points post Grenfell. By giving free entry to London’s best buildings, Open House London champions great architecture and the importance of the public realm.

“We want Londoners to speak as confidently about their built environment as they do about books, music and art. Getting the public inside great buildings and visiting places that are well-designed is the best way to do it,” says Open House Director Rory Olcayto.

Power trip: Visit 10 Downing Street and meet resident cat, Larry. Here he wears a Union Jack bow tie as he’s photographed in the Cabinet Room at the official residence of the prime minister, London April 28, 2011

Almost every building type is represented: government buildings, offices, places of worship, military buildings, livery halls, industrial complexes. There’s even a yurt and a medieval barn. Old favourites like the seat of British political power 10 Downing Street, BT Tower and William Morris’s Red House are back in, while City of London icons – the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin – are once again free to enter.

Architectural nerds are well-catered for with serious, thoughtful design including a 1930s house in Romford designed by Penguin Pool architect Berthold Lubektin, the controversial Maggie’s Centre at Bart’s and a hipster housing block in Stoke Newington vying for the Stirling Prize.

Towering beauty: An established favourite is the iconic BT tower in the West End

As each Open House weekend has come and gone, London’s skyline – and public interest in architecture – has blossomed. Neither the Gherkin nor Grand Designs existed when Open House was launched in 1992. Today, it is a key date in London’s cultural calendar. Last year more than a quarter of a million people visited at least one building each over the weekend.

This year’s Open House is also the last chance to visit Crossrail stations – on pre-booked tours – before they open to the public next year.

But how to crack Open House—visit over 800 buildings in just 48 hours? That is the perennial challenge even for architectural buffs. This year Open House has launched a free app for the first time, for both Android and Apple. Users can view buildings nearby, save favourites to plan their weekend, and filter results by day, architectural type and period.

Less could be more, prioritising addresses closer to home, shortlisting and grouping together attractions within walking distances and ticking each place off your bucket list every year could be a way to begin an enduring love affair with London’s architectural jewels.


Open House is a concept created in London 25 years ago by Open-City, London’s leading independent architecture education organisation. The Open House model invites everyone to experience, explore and understand the value of a well-designed built environment. This successful concept has been extended to events in other cities around the world including New York, Dublin & Galway, Tel Aviv & Jerusalem, Barcelona, Rome, Helsinki, Slovenia and Chicago.

• Open House London weekend 2017 takes place on 16-17 September

• This is the 25th Open House London weekend. The first was in 1992

• Open House was founded by Victoria Thornton OBE HonFRIBA

• The director of Open House London and parent charity Open City is Rory Olcayto

• Over 250,000 people attend Open House each year

• In 2017, there are 800 buildings, places, talks and tours free to all over the two days

Also supported by over 800 property owners, walk organisers and civic societies, and 7000 volunteers

  • Open House London weekend 2017 takes place from 16-17 September, please visit the event’s website for full listings.

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