Director's Open House Weekend
Each year our Director tours London during Open House Weekend with a photographer (and his own journalist’s toolkit (pen and paper!)) to capture the essence of the action packed weekend. This year went something like this…
Saturday 21st September
Saturday morning begins with a trip to Enfield and Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground and ‘the Lodge’. This groovy ‘pad’ for superstar footballers, provides services ranging from ‘wellness’ to catering and mentoring. Each player has their own bedroom (we toured Harry Kane’s!) and the building is exquisitely detailed by F3 Architects. And there’s a weird ‘constellation’ artwork that isn’t what you think – it’s actually a ‘map’ of famous Spurs’ goals. The Lodge, then, surrounded by green – meadows, thickets and planted gardens - is a real treat for fans, like our driver, and photographer, Steve Lavers, and an interesting curiosity for the rest of us. As we leave, we meet an Open House volunteer who has been working the weekend for years now, and travels from Derby for the pleasure. Thank you, Anthea.
London is huge. It can feel endless at times: the route from the Lodge to Stoke Newington and 6a Architect’s super-contemporary ‘brutalist’ home drags. But when we get there, the sheer force of the architecture reawakens our passion for all things Open House. It has stark interiors, exposed concrete beams and not a skirting board in sight. It’s delightful and daring. Exteriors are more diplomatic: hand-applied stucco façades share the same colour and mineral quality as the Victorian neighbours. Yet the owner’s friendly welcome floors us too – Jess, who lives there, and clearly loves her home – makes everyone feel it’s their home as well. Our two volunteers controlled access to this private home with real grace and aplomb too. Great!
Where to park? That was the real challenge this Open House Weekend. Which is good, ultimately, in that London is moving, slowly surely, towards its absolutely necessary car-free future. Our target was Balfron Tower – we wanted a quick tour of the madeover apartments that Studio Egret West and Abe Rogers have been working on for what seem like an age now – and once we eventually found a spot, we wandered over to Goldfinger’s still compelling monolith. The views from this part of East London are stunning, the renewed interiors less so.
We drive to Beck Road in Bethnal Green. This is special. Let me tell you about Beck Road. The residents there have perhaps taken the Open House ethos as far as it can go. Their ‘By Beck Road’ event, the brainchild of Alastair Carruthers and Kathryn Lovering, which showcases art created on the street down the ages (much of it by significant artists), in essence turns their street and homes into public art galleries. This kind of gesture inspires a kind of ‘sociality’ – where people, no matter how well known to each other, do things together, willingly. It so completely embodies the essence of Open House and the shared culture it inspires – and our ‘social theme this year - we’re just pleased to have been involved, and have forged strong links with the team behind this amazing project. Our newest trustee Jayden Ali is part of this too: he connected us with Alastair and transformed his partner’s corner bar on Beck Road into the exhibition shop.
While I was there I saw: video art by Jennie Baines. Helen Chadwick photography. New work by Mikey Cuddihy. Sculpture by Anna Howard. And my daughter, with her mum, and her friends, running around, making friends with local kids and lapping up the art, the architecture, by Beck Road.
We ended the day with a long hardhat site tour of one of London’s most treasured assets: the Geffrye Museum, with detailed insight from the architect (thanks Tommy of Wright & Wright), the builder (Alex of Quinn – cheers!) and Max Fordham’s Michael Pangalis, a project team brimming over with hospitality and passion. The building’s redevelopment, set to open in a year or so, is clearly in very good hands. Yet there’s still so much to do with this unlikely collage - of Georgian, Nigel Coates-ian, and Wright & Wrightian new-school modernism – that all we can do is... wish them good luck!
Sunday 22 September
It’s raining on Sunday morning but it doesn’t really matter. Open House London is mostly an indoor affair. Mostly. Today we are joined by deputy director Jeni Hoskin and we begin our second tour of London’s bewildering townscape on Tower Bridge, waiting in the drizzle, alongside the Lord Mayor and other dignitaries, to greet Mayor Sadiq Khan. He’s riding a Santandersponsored rental bike (in a suit) to make a point – it’s car free day in central London – and we’ve been invited for a photoshoot because this climate change initiative coincides with our very public transport-friendly, very walkable, very bike-able Open House weekend.
There must be some occasions when it’s not a treat to visit a building designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners but I can’t quite imagine them. The law courts in Strasbourg maybe, if you’d done something wrong? Even then though, the architecture would lift a bad day . . .which is why the hyper-immersive tours of Centre Building led by LSE staff and the RSHP design team – including partner Tracy Meller – were such a thrill: not only did we get to enjoy the simple sensual pleasures of perusing a newly minted urban-scaled craftwork, we learned how the building was commissioned, shaped, built, and how it fits with its wider estate. And we were led out on to its many rooftops – which enjoy the best views in central London.
Lunch. What next? We use the Open House London app to see what’s nearby. The New Museum of London at West Smithfield - with a tour just about to begin! So we walk there, quickly, pounding London’s mirror-wet pavements until almost ‘just like that’, we’re in. We are good friends with this wonderful museum, and Alan Stanton, whose firm Stanton Williams is designing its new home, is a much-valued and hard-working Open City trustee. It’s a nice feeling to be able to wander this old market, to see it like this, frozen in time, just before it changes forever. What will we feel in five years-time when its transformation is complete?
Maggie’s at Barts is a few minutes walk from West Smithfield and a refuge from the drizzle (which feels more Glasgow than London) when we recommence our tour. Steven Holl’s design is Tardis-like – a shook-up sensorium: snug and spacious, lantern like, cosy, but somehow ice-cool, like a stylish hotel. I love it. So do the volunteers, including Diana – a former architect with Archigram. Yes – that Archigram! We have a cup of tea there, a Maggie’s tradition, waiting for the rain to pass, and soaking up the warm fuzzy vibes this Open House classic gives off.
We collect our car at the Open City Office on Ensign Street after jumping on the tube after our Maggie Barts trip. And we drive to the mighty, magnificent, massive Millennium Mills. It’s out of sheer awe – for its scale, its grim and griminess, for the ambition of its builders who ennobled what would be a metal shed today, with an architectural quality few buildings of this size come close to . . .for its endurance. How fantastic is it for Open House to be able to show it, inside and out, to the public? The site is locked up when we arrive but after a few whistles and cheers the site manager arrives and opens the Mill for us. We step inside. We explore. We leave. Very pleased indeed.
We return to Beck Road. Mostly, I’m here to see Grenfell Our Home, an immersive film that resident Siobhan Sinnerton is showing. The channel 4 commissioning editor for news and current affairs reserved a spot for me when I said I’d come back after we met the day before. It was fully booked. The installation is a VR headset which you wear while seated in a small room on a 360-rotating office chair. What follows is a very beautiful, very sad story which celebrates the building, the homes and the people of Grenfell. This is genuine VR. You are somewhere else. You’re in the homes of Grenfell Tower. And you soar above it too as the tale unfolds. It is an artwork, a story, with a raw power. Unforgettable.
The Weekend ends as it always does: with the volunteers party. This time, it’s at Second Home on Brick Lane – a co-working space that exudes a kind of pop-modernism that makes you think of Barbarella and Gallic-flavoured 60s sci-fi. The architect is Spanish outfit Selgascano, who designed the Serpentine Pavilion in 2015 (the one made out of coloured tape). There’s a busy, buzzy atmosphere with many happy volunteers and we thank them for their very hard work – these are the people who make Open House! – but best of all are the Open House cakes, complete with key logo that everyone is munching. It’s a pleasantly surreal and very social way to end a fascinating weekend.