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London throws open its doors

Open House London, the annual celebration of the capital’s finest architecture, takes place on 21-22 September. This year more than 700 buildings are taking part. Here is a taster of the event

Lloyd’s of London, One Lime Street, London EC3

Richard Rogers Partnership

Richard Rogers' Lloyds building

I always try to visit Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s building during Open House. It’s a fantastic opportunity to look inside such a magnificent building not normally open to the public. I’d always seen the project in books and from the outside, but I had never had the chance to go inside. During Open House weekend the space is quiet, but you can imagine the trading floors busy during the week. You also get to travel the iconic escalators running through the centre of the building. And don’t miss your chance to go in the shiny, high-speed lifts on the outside of the building, for stunning views across the city.

  • Laura Mark, AJ technical reporter

Maggie’s Centre, Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Road, London W6

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

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The Maggie’s Centre in Hammersmith touched my soul. Visiting this delightful gem of a building in the shadow of the flyover and a 1960s functional hospital tower was deeply moving. Having cared for a cancer patient and recently been widowed, the Maggie’s Centre soothed wounds I did not want to acknowledge. The walk to the centre through the beautifully designed garden created a calming transition from the chaos of the traffic and ambulance emergency sirens, which magically melted away into the distance. The floating roof and bold red walls gave an anticipation of something special inside and it was, truly, amazing. Internal spaces were open and welcoming and, with sleight-of-hand, the designers have managed to create private secluded areas without cutting them off. The roof terraces and courtyards had luxuriant plants that make internal and external spaces flow seamlessly and still shut off the hard and ugly reality of the outside world that surrounds this oasis of calm and healing support.

  • Yasmin Shariff, director, Dennis Sharp Architects

Haberdashers’ Hall, 18 West Smithfield, London EC1 

Hopkins Architects

Haberdashers Hall

I love visiting the sumptuous livery halls of the City of London. From street level they are barely noticeable: most are hidden behind mundane classical facades that belie the old-school splendour within. Haberdashers’ Hall, completed in 2002 by Hopkins Architects, is thoroughly modern yet with medieval references: red brick, timber panelling and an elegant, cloistered courtyard. Inside you see the rich history of the company in historic paintings, furniture and features rescued from previous incarnations (this is the company’s fourth hall) and integrated into this otherwise very modern building.

  • Rakesh Ramchurn, AJ editorial assistant

Cullinan Studio, 5 Baldwin Terrace, London N1

Cullinan Studio

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I suggest a visit to Cullinan Studio in Baldwin Terrace. Here are architects who care obsessively – and inventively – about the making of buildings, in a building that they have made. It’s a lovely example of their work, contained within the shell of an old building beside the canal. It’s orderly but still inventive, serious but still light-hearted. The steel structure fixes the order and holds the new mezzanine away from the tall, canal-side windows. The greens and blues lift the spirits and the light bouncing off the water as well as the people inside animate it.

  • Nicholas Hare, partner, Nicholas Hare Architects

St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1

George Gilbert Scott, restored by RHWL and Richard Griffiths

St Pancras

Thanks to Open House I visited the interior of the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel when it was in its derelict state, prior to refurbishment. It was wonderful to see the spaces in their faded glory and forlorn state. The grandeur and architectural ambition were clearly evident, but the patina of the walls and the general neglect apparent everywhere gave it an ethereal quality. The experience was as though you were peeking into a secret world – through the looking glass – and made more so by the fact it was soon to change and disappear. It was a privilege to be able to see the building at that particular moment in time. Of course it’s a pleasure now to return to view the transformation (and get a drink at the bar), but each time I go I’m reminded of that brief visit.

  • Luke Tozer, director, Pitman Tozer Architects

Finsbury Health Centre, 17 Pine Street, London EC1

Tecton

Finsbury Health Centre

Congress House, home to the Trades Union Congress, was the first Open House building I ever visited. It totally wowed me with its amazing courtyard and Epstein sculpture, a moving memorial to the unionists who died in the wars. A young Open House volunteer guided us round and his knowledge and love of the building was very impressive. That day I also visited Lubetkin’s Finsbury Health Centre, another socially progressive post-World War I building. It had just been partially refurbished by Avanti Architects and had regained some of its cheerful atmosphere – so it is pertinent that 15 years later the campaign is back on to save it. While Congress is not in Open House this year, Finsbury is, so support this important building and celebrate the delight and optimism of Modernist buildings such as these.

  • Sarah Featherstone, director, Featherstone Young Architects

Pioneer Health Centre, St Mary’s Road, London SE15

E Owen Williams

Pioneer

After moving to Peckham, I was surprised to discover that within two streets of my home was a Modernist gem. Not Alsop’s library (also open for Open House) but E Owen Williams’ Pioneer Health Centre. Described by Walter Gropius as ‘an oasis of green in a desert of brick’, the white Modernist building was built to house the ‘Peckham Experiment’, an innovative 1930 health centre. Coming across the Grade II*-listed building, now a gated residential community on a suburban south London street is still a shock, and instantly I wanted to get inside. A visit to this largely forgotten piece of UK inter-war architectural history is a rare opportunity, and one that I was extremely happy to take advantage of.

  • Tom Ravenscroft, AJBL editor

Some of the properties taking part in Open House London require you to book in advance to visit and there is a ballot for admission to 10 Downing Street, the View from the Shard, the London Eye and Gray’s Inn. For further details and opening times, go to: www.openhouselondon.org.uk

 

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