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Open City's Victoria Thornton: ‘We want to open eyes’

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Open-City founding director Victoria Thornton talks about the rewards and challenges of the organisation’s flagship event, Open House

Have the aims of Open House changed over the last 21 years?

Fundamentally no. [We want to] open eyes, minds and doors to the value of design. However we now include public realm projects as well as buildings and the dialogue is about all the professionals contributing to create a vibrant and liveable city.

What’s the biggest difficulty in organising Open House weekend?

Surprisingly, chasing architects to put forward schemes and then writing up architectural information about the building which can be understood by everyone. And of course funding.

What kind of buildings would you like to see more of on the Open House weekend?

It is extremely important to show examples of good housing, particularly in terms of space standards and quality of materials, much of which is lacking in many developments.

It is extremely important to show examples of good housing

What building that has never opened would you like to see open for the weekend?

We’re quite good at ‘prising open’ buildings, but would be good to have some of our international architects opening up their homes to see how theory translates in practice. The House of Lords and Buckingham Palace are landmark buildings still to be opened up for Open House.

Why should architects take part?

This is the key event when architects can showcase their expertise not only to the public, but also politicians, planning authorities and future clients. In addition, as is shown by the Open House concept being replicated in over 20 cities around the world from New York to Melbourne, this is the only event which truly engages everyone in the debate about our physical environment.

This is the only event which truly engages everyone in the debate about our physical environment

What is your personal favourite building which you’d never tire of looking around?

The Ismaili Centre by Casson Conder, for its contemplative secret garden in the middle of the bustle of Cromwell Road, which is just what I need for a few minutes during the wonderful madness of Open House London.

Which building holds the biggest surprise, once the visitor is over the threshold?

New Heart for Bow Project at St Paul’s Old Ford, by Matthew Lloyd Architects.

Have you ever had a disaster?

9/11 was of course the worst time for us as that tragedy happened only a few days before Open House weekend. Many of the government buildings closed their doors in case of further terrorist activity, but then it was staggering to see so many staying open believing that democracy prevails. Open House New York was established a year later.

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