There are currently two weekends that I make sure that I’m in London for. The first is the weekend of RCA Secret and the second is Open House London weekend. The latter took place on 21 and 22 September this year.
For those who don’t know, Open House London is an annual event where buildings across London open up for one or two days to the general public. The buildings range from private homes to big landmarks like the Gherkin.This year, the big attraction was Battersea Power Station which was open to the public for the last time before it’s redeveloped. I had been keen to see it but Twitter quickly fired up with reports of queues that were hours long. So, I decided to give it a miss and check out other places that might not have queues well over a mile long instead.
This was my third year of Open House, in previous years I’ve seen the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, City Hall and the Lloyds Building, but here’s a rundown of the places I did see this year:
1. Queen Mary Blizard Institute Building
The Queen Mary Blizard Institute Building is a building that has always interested me. It’s a big glass building in Whitechapel which has this big open space inside with what can only be described as a cross between cocoon and cloud structures suspended in mid air. Some pictures of the building generally can be found on their website.
It felt a little like being in a spaceship:
Inside the big orange cocoon we found touch screens with games (educational of course) so we had a go at human body cell top trumps (I won) and found out that in a minute we neither lost nor gained any brain cells, but we did gain and lose a lot of white and red blood cells. We had a lot of fun actually and it was nice to check out somewhere that was a bit unexpected, somewhere we didn’t have to queue for and a surprising start to our first day of Open House 2013.
2. Royal Courts of Justice
I’ve been to the RCJ before a few times but only ever when courts have been in session during the week. Normally, as with all courts, photography isn’t permitted, so I’ve never actually been able to take photos of what is a beautiful building. This was my chance to get in with my camera.
In addition to offerering the chance to look around the building, they offered a number of talks throughout the day and the chance to see the cells (check out the grafitti!) and the opportunity to be locked in a prison van (temporarily). Queues are short and move fast so it’s worth checking it out.
3. Tower Hamlets Cemetery
I love a cemetery, although I’m not sure I can really say that as I’m still yet to visit Highgate, the most famous of London’s cemeteries. What I didn’t know before Open House was that Tower Hamlets has its own cemetery. It’s a designated Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. The inhabitants may not be as famous as other cemeteries but it’s a beautiful, calm place. I went on an organised tour by one of the volunteers but it’d be lovely to explore fully without a guide. Open House or not, it’d be worth checking out.
4. Customs House
Not much to see architecturally here (at least not for my personal taste) but it was an interesting building historically. Unfortunately we turned up at the wrong time to catch a display of the sniffer dogs but I got to meet one (and give it a stroke outside). It’s location was right across from our next destination too.
5. Billingsgate Roman Baths
This year’s Open House London Sunday was also the day the Tour of Britain hit London for its final stage, so we wanted to position ourselves so we had a good spot nearish the turning point at Tower Hill. This venue was perfect and somewhere I’d have never known existed without Open House, it’s hidden behind just a normal door in a normal wall underneath a normal office building that you’d never look at twice, but underneath is a conservation project. The website explains better than I could and offers better photos. If it;s open next year and you’re in the area it’s a good chance to see some of old Roman London, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a trip across London to see it if you aren’t as it’s only a small venue and therefore the queue can be slow moving.
With a lot of debate on Twitter this year about some venues being far too busy, I can’t help but wonder whether Open House is becoming a victim of its own success. Next year I think I will continue to seek out smaller venues (and try and resist the lure of the hours long queue for the Gherkin).