Now in it’s 20th year, every September the London Open House Weekend sees private buildings across London throw open their doors to thousands of curious visitors. The theme of this year’s weekend was ‘The Changing Face Of London’, focusing on recent developments in the built environment. The Director of Open City, Victoria Thornton, the organisation that arranges the festival in London and elsewhere, said:
“Last year 89% of participants said the Open House event was the best way to get under the skin, become more knowledgeable and engage in the dialogue about the capital’s architecture.”
While many venues operate a ‘turn up and queue’ policy during Open House Weekend, some buildings have traditionally employed a pre-booking system to limit visitor numbers to manageable levels. This year’s festival was slightly marred by the online booking system, which was overwhelmed as soon as it opened for business on 16 August. After days of repeated website crashes and extended periods of downtime, organisers eventually decided to employ a simpler email ballot system for the more exclusive properties. Hopefully they will learn their lessons from this experience and deploy sufficient online resources to cope with the demand this time next year.
Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in the ballot but nevertheless did manage to visit some fantastic buildings. Here is part one of our London Open House 2012 highlights:
The Lloyd’s building was designed by Richard Rogers and built in 1985 – it is the eight home of the world-renowned insurance marketplace since it was formed in Mr Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower St in 1688. The building has continually courted controversy – some architecture critics consider to be incredibly ugly because it is ‘inside out’ – all of its services are attached to the exterior surfaces rather than hidden inside. Key features of the building include a huge open underwriting floor that has brightly coloured escalators that take visitors to the upper floors and the bell, traditionally rung when news arrived of ships that were overdue and presumed lost.
On one of the upper floors is the building’s most remarkable feature – the Adam Room, a dining room designed by Robert Adam in 1763 which was moved from the previous headquarters and reconstructed in its entirety. The experience of stepping from the 20th century to the 18th simply by stepping through a doorway makes this one of the most unique and unusual experiences in London.
Chartered Accountants’ Hall
The Chartered Accounts Hall on Moorgate place was built as the headquarters of the ICAEW in 1893. Built in the neo-baroque style, its handsome exterior is liberally covered in friezes and busts. Arguably the building is even more impressive on the inside. It’s library, now the ‘Members Room’ has a bridge copied from a Venetian example and is modelled on a Grecian Temple, while the Old Council Chamber is styled after an early Renaissance church. This room has magnificent frescos by George Murray and some remarkable examples of stained glass.
The other secret that the building holds is down in it’s vaults, which according to our guide contains the largest collection of silver pieces in the world.
100 Victoria Embankment – Unilever House
In the 1920s Lever Brothers commissioned an impressive Thames-side art deco building to act as their headquarters. While it served its purpose for many years, modern working practices eventually rendered it unsuitable. Rather than move to another location and unable to demolish it and start again (the building is listed) a new modern office block was designed to fit inside the existing exterior. The clean marble surfaces of the lobby now give way to a huge new atrium with a remarkable structure at its centre – Conrad Shawcross’s ‘Space Trumpet’. The sculpture, suspended below a meeting room that connects to the rest of the building via elevated walkways, rotates imperceptibly – it turns 360 degrees over a period of 60 days.
You’ll find part two of our coverage of the 2012 London Open House weekend here.