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Rory Olcayto: ‘Open House is all about people’

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The AJ talks to Open House’s new director Rory Olcayto about some of the highlights of this weekend’s event, and how he is politicising it

Rory Olcayto

What is Open House?

By opening up buildings usually closed to the public, Open House has a simple, democratic message: London’s best buildings and places should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of wealth or status. An open city, where citizens are free to roam where they like, is the ultimate goal. It’s worth remembering that the freedoms we enjoy today, like strolling through Hyde Park – once off-limits to the masses – had to be fought for. So who is it for? Everyone.

Which building do you think will be the most popular?

Judging by the Twitter frenzy we were caught up in when Palmerston the cat tweeted, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in particular, could be rammed. But colleagues who’ve been with Open House far longer than me say the queues for the Gherkin form the night before.

Are you doing anything differently to previous years?

We’re launching in the office of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners this year, where Richard Rogers, Ivan Harbour, the deputy mayor for regeneration Jules Pipe, and myself will talk on the subject of the Equitable City. In other words, a London in which citizens have more of a stake in the design, development and care of the building and places they live and work in. That’s got to be an endeavour in which the public and private sectors work more harmoniously together, and in the public interest.

Defining that public interest – cheap, well-designed housing aside – is tricky. I think on a simple level British Land has explored this notion at the Cheesegrater with the provision of a public – but privately run – square at its base rather than filling up that volume with office space. It’s not quite working successfully, but in time it could transform into a very welcome part of the public realm. 

The short answer to your question is: yes. We’re politicising the event this year. This week for example, we held a debate on Robert Elms’s BBC Radio London show about how architecture and design can be used to open up more of London to its citizens – ‘publicising’ private space, if you like.

Open house logo

The guide has been redesigned this year. What has changed?

The new look includes a reworked logo and a resized guide, with more pages and new content. We’ve returned to A5, which was the size of the guide in the early days. The new look also matches our London Underground poster campaign. It centres on a redesigned Open House key – a new black and white graphic icon placed on the familiar ‘Open House green’ background.

The listing section has been overhauled. New icons make navigation easier, there are borough descriptions and city metrics as well as interesting facts about each area. And we’ve also added a features section with articles about London’s architecture by the likes of Rowan Moore, Will Wiles, Ian Martin and Robert Elms, as well as a number of features exploring the idea of the equitable city. There’s even a review of Home Economics at the Venice Biennale’s British Pavilion. For those interested, the typefaces used throughout are National, Futura and Tiempos.

Why is Open City collaborating with the mayor’s #londonisopen campaign?

The mayor’s office approached us because they felt the ethos of Open House matched the message they wanted to spread about London’s desire to remain open – to newcomers, to ideas, and to business, obviously. They liked the sense of participation and curiosity, and the idea Open House embodies of London being for everyone. We were more than happy to join forces.

Open House embodies the idea of London being for everyone

Are there any buildings missing which you hope to get in future?

If we’d got Future Systems’ Media Centre at Lord’s, we would have had all six of London’s Stirling Prize-winning buildings, which could have made for an interesting weekend tour. Entry to OMA’s Rothschild building in the City would be sweet, as would entry to Buckingham Palace. High finance and the class system have London and England in a grip. Opening up places like this would begin to loosen a knuckle or two, I’m sure.

What do you think the biggest surprise is this year?

Orbit. I don’t hate it, even though you’re meant to around these parts! It really is one of the strangest buildings in London. Worth a visit I’d say. 

But in truth, a visit to the offices of RSHP and Foster + Partners, two of the biggest names in architecture in the world, is kind of fun. These are the places where buildings and cities are conceived and designed. I think Londoners will be fascinated to see how such things are done.

What’s your own view of Open House London?

Since I started as director in March, I’ve come to realise, that superficially, yes, it’s an architectural event, but really, Open House is a social event. It’s all about people: the people who attend, the people who designed the buildings or built them, the buildings’ owners, and of course, our volunteers, over 1,000 of them. People make Open House London.

The Open House London app is available to dowload from the AppStore and Google Play  

Open city team

Open city team

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