The capital’s architecture festival, designed to remind us how much the built environment matters, celebrates its twentieth anniversary this weekend and our very own Around Town editor Sara O’Reilly plans her itinerary.
For the whole of this fairytale summer, London’s buildings – the monuments, landmarks, towers, spires and places of government and commerce – have played a supporting role, providing the backdrop to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, as well as the extraordinary production of sporting, organisational and community triumph that was the London 2012 Games. Now it’s time for the capital’s architecture to grab its share of the limelight. The timing of the annual Open House London festival (September 22-23) couldn’t be better: just as we’re ready to enter the post- Olympics doldrums, it’s a concrete reminder of the huge part that the capital’s buildings play in making this such a fabulous city.
In the festival’s inaugural year 20 buildings were open. Two decades on, the concept has been adopted by 25 cities worldwide, and 750 buildings will take part this year. With so many participating venues, augmented by talks, tours and children’s activities, the real problem is narrowing down your options. Our selection gives a taste of the gloriously varied buildings involved.
Lloyds of London (pictured above)
Constructed in 1986, Lord Rogers’s high-tech building,with its ducts, vents, stairwells and lift shafts on the outside, looks like an oil rig that’s been dumped in the heart of the City. The exciting structure, which is home to the less-exciting-sounding Lloyd’s of London specialist insurance market, always draws an Open House crowd. The ground floor and eleventh-floor gallery will be open for viewing, but be prepared to wait in line. 1 Lime St, London, EC3M 7HA. Liverpool St tube/rail or Bank tube. 10am-4pm Sat Sept 22.
Be prepared to queue here because Lord Foster’s 30 St Mary Axe (aka the Gherkin), completed in 2003, is always one of the most popular Open House venues. Airport-style security will be in operation, so you’ll need to take photo ID, but the 360-degree views are worth the extra effort. Entry is from 9am to 5pm, with the last tour starting at 4.30pm. 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP. Bank tube or Liverpool St tube/rail. 9am to 5pm (last tour at 4.30pm) Sun Sept 23.
The White House
There’s a suitably sweet tale attached to this royal-icing-white stucco building. The structure is based on a Polish palace that was owned by Prince John Zylinski’s grandmother. It burnt to the ground during World War II, and Zylinski, raised on tales of the palace, promised his grandmother he would rebuild it. The White House was completed in 2009 after seven years’ work. Its Louis XV-style interiors, including the salon, library and Forest Room are an opulent blend of marble, gold cornicing and crystal chandeliers. Park View Rd, W5 2JB. Ealing Broadway/North Ealing tube. 1-5pm Sat Sept 22 and Sun Sept 23.
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Getting beyond the Portland stone façade of this steelframed, Grade II-listed building built is not usually an option, so it’s worth seizing this rare opportunity. You can see an exhibition on the history of the building, and catch a glimpse of the gilded bronze insects and animals that decorate the first-floor balconies and large open courtyards. Founded in 1899, the London School of Tropical Medicine opened its existing home in 1926. Keppel St, WC1E 7HT. Goodge St tube. Tours from 10am to 4pm (starting on the hour) Sat Sept 22.
This seven-storey building was designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners to provide offices for MPs and their staff, who were overflowing the limited accommodation at the Palace of Westminster. Visitors will be allowed into the ground-floor courtyard – a vast space that’s covered by a glass roof at the second-floor level and surrounded by a two-storey cloister – and on to the first floor of the building. Look out for parliamentary portraiture by the likes of Gillray and Scarfe. Bridge Street, SW1A 2LW. Westminster tube. 10am-5pm (last entry 4.30pm) Sat Sept 22.
Designed in a neoclassical art deco style, this curved building near Blackfriars Bridge was commissioned by Lord Leverhulme, and became Unilever’s headquarters on its completion in 1931. It was Grade II listed in 1977 and has been renovated in the past decade to create contemporary office space retaining many of the original features, including parquet flooring and lift panels designed by Eric Gill. Be prepared to queue. 100 Victoria Embankment, EC4 0DY. Blackfriars tube/rail. 10am-5pm Sat Sept 22.
13 Kingsley Place
This new, three-bedroom house in the Highgate conservation area makes a feature of natural materials and includes a courtyard and an elevated rear deck with views across London. 13 Kingsley Pl, N6 5EA. Highgate tube. 10am-5pm Sun Sept 23.
Open House London takes place Sat Sept 22 and Sun Sept 23. Entry is free, on a first-come, first-served basis. For more info, see timeout.com.