Every year hundreds of buildings in London open their doors to the public for one weekend in September, allowing visitors a glimpse under the skin of the city’s architecture. Open House London, which takes place this weekend (September 17th and 18th), will grant access to over 700 offices, homes and civic monuments. The entirely free event also includes dozens of neighbourhood walks, boat and cycle tours, talks and debates all over London. Giovanna Dunmall offers her top-five picks for where to go:
1. The former Commonwealth Institute building (pictured above), a Grade II-listed structure on High Street Kensington, is renowned for its curvaceous green copper roof. The Institute is a prime example of 20th-century modernism, designed by Lord Cunliffe in 1958. It is about to be renovated by John Pawson and Rem Koolhaas, so this is the last chance for the public to see the original project before it re-opens as the new Design Museum in 2014.
2. Make a trip to the Hermitage Community Moorings in Wapping for a glimpse of what it is like to live on the water. HCM provides berths for historic vessels that have all been painstakingly restored and converted into homes. These boats now make up a permanent moored community, but the boats are navigable and can explore other waters. There is also a Pier House, a floating space for local events.
3. The striking Battleship Building in Paddington was a maintenance depot for railway vehicles built in 1968. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects converted it into offices for Monsoon, a fashion brand, in 2000. As a result its cream mosaic-clad exteriors were cleaned and its interiors modernised, but its commanding art-deco central staircase remains.
4. After the spectacular restoration and extension of George Gilbert Scott’s gothic St Pancras station and extravagant hotel on top (formerly the Midland Grand and now the St Pancras Renaissance)—both part of Open House London—it was time for King’s Cross station (pictured), just down the road, to get a similarly grand overhaul. The first part of the project, the new 140 metre-wide canopy on the western concourse, is set to become Europe's largest continuous roof structure, reminiscent of the British Museum's Great Court renovation (though twice its size). It is almost finished and can be visited this weekend along with some of the restored Victorian buildings that make up this 159-year-old station. When the station is completed in 2013, at an estimated cost of £450m, its beautiful Victorian façade will finally be visible, having been covered by an ugly shed-like structure for the past 40 years.
5. For the second year running, Open House is offering tours of the famous revolving 34th floor of the BT Tower, 158 metres above the city. A visit is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Enjoy unhindered 360° views across the capital as you try to name every landmark you lay your eyes on. It may take a while.
For more information, visit Open House London's website.
Picture credit: Luke Hayes (top); Hufton & Crow