Announcement: Rory Olcayto to step down as Chief Executive of Open City


After four years at the helm, Rory Olcayto is stepping down as chief executive of Open City leaving the organisation at the end of January.


Since his appointment in December 2015, Rory has transformed the charity behind Open House London, forging stronger links with local government and the built environment sector safeguarding and enhancing the ‘free’ experience Open House has guaranteed since its inception in 1992


This process has involved building a popular online presence, consolidating Open City’s position as champions of diversity as well as devising a robust in-house digital management systems to enable the charity’s prized assets - our database of building and volunteers, both numbering in the thousands.


Rory Olcayto said:


“Leading the team at Open City has been a rare privilege,” I’ve learned so much working with my dedicated colleagues, our army of committed volunteers and the countless architects and built environment experts who make our programmes so richly rewarding. But I’ve learned from all the building owners as well, who make events like Open House, Open House Families and Citymaking Sessions worth coming to each year. And I’m very grateful to our ever-generous sponsors, who ensure our charity flourishes year after year. Thank you!”


Under Rory’s stewardship, the world’s biggest architecture festival – which attracts a quarter of a million people to over 800 hundred free-to-enter buildings each year – has grown. Every London borough now takes part in the city-wide festival, a feat first achieved in 2017, a quarter of a century after the groundbreaking public event was launched in 1992 when just four boroughs and a hundred or so visitors participated.


During his tenure Rory forged enduring partnerships with the GLA, showcasing key Mayoral ventures at Open House from Crowdfund London, which promotes ‘ground-up’ community townscape projects to the vast OPDC regeneration plans in the heart of the capital that will take decades to complete.


He also launched the annual Thornton Lecture - to celebrate founding director Victoria Thornton’s contribution to London’s cultural life (with inaugural speaker, head of Tate Maria Balshaw), Open House Families, a design festival for children and their parents, and Citymaking Sessions, a new annual event exploring new perspectives across architecture, planning and urban design.


In his first year Rory oversaw a rebrand of both Open City and Open House London transforming the annual Open House guide into a must-have features-led annual publication and the organisation’s social media profile grow exponentially.


As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations in 2017 Rory oversaw the design of a new visual identity for Open City and Open House and laid the groundwork for a more engaged and robust online presence. He also commissioned a float from Graeme Nicholls Architects, to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Parade, a first for the organisation, and secured Mayor Sadiq Khan as the keynote speaker for the Open House London Weekend launch at City Hall.


Rory’s brand overhaul also saw the publication of a popular, easy-to use and free-to-download app with detailed listings of the entire Open House programme; a new annual on-brand tours programme centred around a monthly Thames architectural boat tour and the launch of Friends of Open House, a public membership scheme.


Over the past four years Accelerate, Open City’s architectural education programme with UCL that encourages more diverse student cohorts, has flourished. Rory’s commitment to securing funding for this unique programme has ensured young adults from diverse backgrounds are now training to become professional architects. Successes have included Accelerate graduates winning places at the Bartlett, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Bath among others.


Rory Olcayto said:


“This is the part of my job I’m most proud of - seeing teenagers from all kinds of backgrounds embarking upon their architectural studies. If we want our cities to more properly respond to all of our needs and desires diversifying the architectural profession is essential.”


Since 2016 Rory has run Open City’s consultancy arm taking on a range of projects including a book for Argent (Brent Cross South: the handbook) exploring how fiction can be used as an urban design tool; site tours of exemplar housing projects for Clarion Housing residents whose neighbourhoods are being renewed, masterplan hackathons (for Buro Happold) exploring new problem-solving techniques and professional design tours (for Interface) centred on health and wellbeing.


Rory also undertook significant in-house changes, overseeing the diversification of the board of trustees (see press release); the development of proprietary in-house database software to manage buildings and volunteer networks; overhauling accounting and budgeting and introducing new human resource practices including pay-related performance reviews.


Other significant achievements at Open City, include the festival-within-a-festival, By Beck Road 19 at Open House this year, which saw an entire terraced street transformed into a temporary art gallery (featuring work by Helen Chadwick, Sol LeWitt and Cathy Pilkington) which attracted over 5000 visitors and the Open House World Wide Conference in 2018, which saw delegates from over 40 Open House cities gather for three days of learning, sharing and networking and in June this year, the launch of Citymaking Sessions in partnership with Beispiel at Peckham’s world-famous car park-cum-art gallery which attracted 250 professional delegates to a unique day-long “happening” for everyone who loves cities.


Rory Olcayto said:


“My wider role at Open City, through platforms like Citymaking Sessions as well as Open House and the learning programmes we run across London’s schools, has been to promote a more equitable future for all city-dwellers, and encourage everyone to get involved in shaping the neighbourhoods in which the live and work. The future of London’s streets and skyline must be forged in the public interest.”


Rory will take up a new role in March with architectural practice Pollard Thomas Edwards, occupying a position co-created with the practice. He said:


“My title is writer and critic and I’ll be calling upon my previous experience working as the editor of the Architect’s Journal and more recently as the chief executive of Open City – an organisation that celebrates the public good -  to help shape the future of London’s housing and public realm.”


Chair of the Trustees of Open City, Crispin Kelly, writes:


‘Victoria Thornton created Open City, with its enduringly popular and important Open House annual festival. Rory has made sure that as her successor he has nurtured the work of the charity, expanding and consolidating what the team does, and using his special skills as a writer and communicator to make sure that  Open City can thrive in a rapidly changing digital environment, in a city which faces so many challenges. We thank Rory for all he has done, and look forward to the work he goes on to do in his new post.’