Many of London’s most iconic buildings and spaces will throw open their doors on Saturday 4 September for the Open House Festival 2021, a nine-day celebration of the city’s architecture and urban landscape. From the Prime Minister’s inner sanctum at 10 Downing Street to Ernő Goldfinger’s brutalist landmark Trellick Tower and the newly-completed Maggie’s Centre at St Barthlomew’s Hospital, designed by new York-based architect Steven Holt, visitors will have the chance to go behind the scenes at some of the most famous addresses in the capital.
The nine-day Open House Festival this September will see hundreds of buildings, landscapes, infrastructure and community projects across London granting free access to the public, many of which have not been open since the start of the pandemic.
The festival, which in a typical year sees 250,000 people cross the threshold of over 800 buildings, is the largest in a global network of 50 festivals dedicated to opening up buildings and conversations about city-making.
This year’s event has been divided into themes: ‘Local London’, focussing on community spaces; ‘Global London’ will explore global architects, global arts and culture; and ‘Architecture and Wellbeing’ incorporates visits to mindful architecture and tours exploring off the beaten track and undiscovered areas; other areas covered this year include the intersection of architecture and food, and architecture and education.
Aside from the opportunity to peek around some of the capital’s most famous heritage landmarks and a few of its more hidden gems, the Festival offers a first look at a new design district in Greenwich – the work of eight different architects – and a much-anticipated redevelopment of a community centre in Holborn. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see City Hall in Southwark for the last time as a government building before the Greater London Authority moves to Royal Docks.
The 2021 programme particularly focuses on the capital’s pubs and breweries – in what has been an extremely challenging 18 months for the industry – with tours of one of the oldest pubs in London, in Southwark, and the publication of a new book Public House, a Cultural and Social History of the London Pub, celebrating over 120 remarkable pubs across town with a foreword by Mayor Sadiq Khan.
2021 Open House London is the first event in a year of city-wide cultural programmes across London’s 33 boroughs to mark the 30th anniversary of its parent charity Open City, which is dedicated to making London and other global cities accessible and equitable to all. “In 2021 the Open House Festival is back with hundreds of in-person events which celebrate the reopening of cultural life across the capital. We hope the Festival will strengthen London’s cultural and economic recovery and promote walking and cycling across all 33 boroughs,” explains Siân Milliner, Head of Open House Festival.
One of the most famous front doors in London, Number 10 has been the residence of British prime Ministers since 1735. Originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century, it was later remodelled and reconfigured by William Kent who installed the handsome staircase that remains to this day.
Tour tickets are allocated by ballot and tours take place on 4 September.
Kensington and Chelsea
Designed in the late 1960s and opened in 1972, Ernö Goldfinger’s 31-storey social housing tower, on Golborne Road in Kensal Green, is London’s most feted high rise . Monumental in its Brutalist style, with its free-standing service tower and triumphal boiler house, Trellick Tower is much-lauded for its detailing and rich use of materials.
Resident-led tours will take place on 12 September
Design District is a collection of 16 buildings – the brainchild of eight architects – in Greenwich Peninsula. It has been purpose-designed for the city’s creatives to collaborate and interact. Alongside permanent work space, there are also facilities such as a rooftop basketball court and a canteen designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano.
Tours will be announced on the Open House Festival website.
City of London
Barts may be the oldest hospital in Britain, founded in 1123, but it still provides medical services from its original site. The hospital comprises numerous buildings including the historic Grade I listed North Wing which houses spectacular canvases by William Hogarth, as well as a newly-completed Maggie’s Centre for cancer care by the American architect Steven Holl. In keeping with other Maggie’s Centres, it has been designed to feel more like a home than a hospital, with its open curved staircase, lighting which changes colour according to the time and season, and tranquil roof garden.
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.
Built by Hugh Lea, Borough Architect for Croydon, in 1968, this library is an under-appreciated example of Brutalism. The main volume of the building shows the influence of Mies van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of modernist architecture (he coined the phrase “less is more”), in its simplicity and abundance of natural light.
The library will be open to visitors until 3.30pm on Saturday 4 and Saturday 11 September.
A much-anticipated redevelopment of Holborn Community Association’s facilities by acclaimed British architects 6a. Founded by Tom Emerson and Stephanie Macdonald, 6a have gained an international reputation for their housing, cultural, educational and mixed-use projects.
Tours for up to 25 people will run every half hour on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 September.
Walters Way isn’t any old street. The close of 13 houses was built as part of an innovative scheme run by Lewisham council in the early 1970s, in which families were given the opportunity to build their own timber-frame homes in collaboration with German architect Walter Segal. The result was this striking street of two-storey dwellings, three of which are still inhabited by their original builders.
There will be an open day on 5 September including resident-led tours.
This former Victorian hostel building has been transformed by renowned British architect Peter Barber into a contemporary sheltered housing complex for people experiencing homelessness. A secluded, tree-lined courtyard sits at the heart, with light, airy communal areas and self-contained apartments and other accommodation leading off it.
Tours led by the architects and council staff will take place on 4 and 5 September.
Dating from the 17th century, this National Trust-owned but privately-run pub is London’s last remaining galleried inn. It is also one of 120 pubs celebrated in the forthcoming book Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub which is being published to coincide with the 2021 Open House Festival.
The George will be offering behind-the-scenes tours on selected dates from 4 to 12 September.
This could be the last opportunity that visitors can see inside City Hall in its current guise as a government building, following Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement that the GLA is moving to the Docklands. Built in 2002, the landmark features a vast internal ramp spiraling around and above the main debating chamber where Khan meets with the London Assembly Members.
Visitors are welcome from 10am until 4pm on 4 September.
The 2021 Open House Festival takes place from 4 to 12 September.