One of the capital’s richest, most widespread and satisfying annual events, 2021 Open House London is upon us. The festival, which started back in 1992 as a long weekend of activities, but now lasts a hefty nine days of architectural fun, is varied, informative and entertaining – and puts the public at its heart. From 4 – 12 September, London architecture unfolds for our pleasure and learning across all its 33 boroughs. 

From well-known public spaces to forgotten or hidden gems, and from modernist private homes that would normally be off-limits to visitors to whole neighbourhoods that are now seen anew through tours and experiences that shed new light on their history and sheer presence – this is the architectural celebration that has it all. And importantly, it aims 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 Open House London programme’s numerous highlights to attend and enjoy. 

Design District, Greenwich

the David Kohn designed building at London’s new design district at the Greenwich peninsula

London’s Design District brings together makers and thinkers in the fields of design, art, tech, food, fashion, craft and music in a single development, offering an impressive 134,000 sq ft of workspace for some 1,800 creatives – from start-ups and individual makers to household-names. Spearheaded by local developer Knight Dragon (also behind urban additions such as Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s The Tide, which opened to the public last year), and conceived in partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA), the project is a composition of 16 individual, architecturally led buildings by eight different architects in a one-hectare plot. The scheme is set to open this autumn. 

Tours will be announced on the Open House festival website

10 Downing Street by Christopher Wren and others, Westminster

no 10 front door

You don’t have to be an architecture aficionado to know of Number 10 Downing Street. This is the residence of British prime ministers since 1735, originally designed by Christopher Wren in the 15th century, and remodelled decades later by William Kent. The building includes an impressive three-storey stone staircase, and if you were ever curious to find out what goes on inside this most powerful of doors, this is your chance. 

Tour tickets are allocated by ballot and take place on Saturday 4 September.

City Hall by Foster + Partners, Southwark

London city hall interior ramp looking out

City Hall was built in 2002 to a design by Foster + Partners. It sits next to Tower Bridge and features a distinctive curved shape and a dominating internal ramp – a visual shorthand for the building, which spirals around and above the main debating chamber, where the Mayor Sadiq Khan meets with the London Assembly Members. It was recently announced that the GLA is in the process of moving out (and moving to the docklands), so this may perhaps be the last chance to explore it during the Open House festival – don’t miss it. 

Visitors are welcome from 10am until 4pm on Saturday 4 September

Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

London guild hall overview aerial

Right in the heart of London, this famed cultural insitution houses the City of London’s art collection. The richly designed building features Portland stone and Collyweston stone slates on the façade, marble, American elm, damask and painted wall coverings inside, and is built over the remains of London’s 2nd century Roman amphitheatre. 

Free guided tours take place every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 12.15pm and 1.15pm. There is limited capacity for walk-in visits, booking is recommended

Holborn House by 6a Architects, Camden

holborn house green stairs

6a is one of London’s most exciting and celebrated architecture practices and this, a much-anticipated redevelopment for the Holborn Community Association, is one of its most recent works. The practice’s founders, Tom Emerson and Stephanie Macdonald, work wonders using their singature approach of sensitve, almost ethereal design that blends old and new.  

Tours for up to 25 people will run every half hour on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 September.

Mount Pleasant Homeless Shelter by Peter Barber Architects, Camden

Mount Pleasant Homeless Shelter by Peter Barber Architects

An important design for an equally important organisation, this is the reimagining of a former Victorian workhouse into a contemporary facility for 50 people experiencing homelessness. Its author, celebrated British architect Peter Barber, combines old and new with strategic moulding of indoor and outdoor space, all laid out around a central courtyard. 

Tours led by the architects and council staff will take place on 4 and 5 September

South Norwood Library by Croydon Architects Department, Croydon

South Norwood Library

This London classic was designed by Hugh Lea, Borough Architect for Croydon, in 1968. Created as a purpose-built library with a glass-enclosed, boxy outline contrasted by a pronounced, opaque, monolithic top volume, this is one of the capital’s under-appreciated examples of brutalism. Still popular and busy to this day, the building is brightly and naturally illuminated, creating an exciting dialogue between concrete and light. 

The library will be open to visitors until 3.30pm on Saturdays 4 and 11 September

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and Maggie’s Centre by Steven Holl, City of London

St Barts Maggie’s hero exterior at night

When New York-based architect Steven Holl started piecing together ideas for the newest Maggie’s cancer care centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, he knew that the structure was going to form a pivotal part of a much longer story. Adjacent to the 18th-century stone building by architect James Gibbs, the design of Maggie’s Centre Barts reveals a softened, translucent exterior in the day in contrast with its lantern like state at night; an intentional feature that Holl says distinguishes the care centre from the medieval structures that surround it. 

Early evening tours of Maggie’s Barts will take place on 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 September. The North Wing of Barts, including the Hogarth Stair, will be open all day on Sunday 5 September

The George Inn, Southwark

The George Inn hero exterior

Historical architecture is celebrated hand in hand with London’s modernist legacy in the Open House programme, catering for all needs and tastes and opening up endless opportunities for dialogue around the built environment. An example of period works on show is the George Inn, a coaching inn owned by the National Trust. The George is one of 120 pubs celebrated in the aforementioned Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub book. 

The George is open throughout the Open House London Festival and will be offering behind-the-scenes tours of the building from time to time during the nine-day programme

Trellick Tower by Ernő Goldfinger, Kensington and Chelsea

Trellick Tower looking impressive from below

Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower is an undeniable London landmark. Its 31 storeys, visible from afar, and brutalist nature, make this social housing project from 1972 an instantly recognisable piece of architecture – from its free-standing service tower and boiler house to its grid of balconies and use of concrete. 

Resident-led tours will be taking place on Sunday 12 September, marking the final day of the festival

Walters Way self-built street, Lewisham

Walters Way houses in greenery in South London

‘In 1979 a group of south London families were given the opportunity to build their own timber-frame council homes in collaboration with the pioneering German architect Walter Segal,’ says the guide at Open House. This unique street of low, two-storey houses is now a strong community of architecture enthusiasts, and this is your chance to get a closer look. 

Walters Way will host an open day on Sunday 5 September, including resident-led tours and the launch of a new book about the street

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