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A week to prove the importance of architecture

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Open House and Green Sky Thinking are what we need to fight Gove-ism, says Christine Murray

At a party last week, Keith Williams recounted to me the experience of watching the audience enter his Wexford Opera House on opening night; his delight at seeing the way they looked up and around, experiencing the space.

It’s a moment that may be repeated for architects all over the capital this weekend, as Open House London (www.openhouselondon.org.uk) grants access to hundreds of buildings. This programme, spearheaded by Open-City’s brilliant director Victoria Thornton, does amazing work in educating the public about architects and architecture in the simplest, most unpretentious way possible: by letting people explore.

In her inauguration speech last week, RIBA president Angela Brady spoke of the urgent need to educate the public about quality architecture, and how this will empower them to ‘demand better design as a human need’.

When it comes to educating people about architecture, we know that showing is more effective than telling. That’s why the AJ supports Open House London every year as media partner, and distributes its paid programme free to all subscribers in August. We put the AJ brand on Open House London because we believe in this programme, and we think architects should get involved with it.

This year, we are also pleased to support the return of Green Sky Thinking, a concurrent Open-City programme of talks on sustainability, which will see practices hosting events in their offices. Nick Willson Architects will offer free advice to local businesses and the community on how to improve and retrofit their existing properties. Other practices are hosting retrofit seminars, and tours of retrofit and commercial exemplars – you can find the entire programme here, or on www.greenskythinking.org.uk.

This year, more than ever, programmes such as Open House London and Green Sky Thinking are essential in the fight against Gove-ism, and the proliferation of the idea that architects are a luxury. We know that good architecture doesn’t need to be expensive, extraordinary or iconic to make a difference, and that taking pride in your workplace, home, city or school has the power to make us more productive, behave better, and feel better.

I hope the profession will be out in force this weekend and, whether visiting a historic building or a council estate, take every opportunity to connect with Open House London’s interested public. The more the average citizen has the opportunity to speak with their friendly neighbourhood architect, the more accessible the profession will appear, and the more the public will trust architects.

No one is better placed to explain how even the most ordinary and inexpensive architectural interventions can represent good value for money and improve quality of life. We must use opportunities such as Open House to transform the public’s perception of the architect from an artist in an ivory tower, to an empathic, and essential, professional.

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