Open House has become an international phenomenon, a weekend in which hundreds of architecturally-interesting private buildings throw open their doors to the public. Cities taking part now range from New York to Jerusalem, Helsinki and Melbourne, but this weekend Open House returns to its original location, London. Some buildings need to be pre-booked, but here the FT’s architecture critic and a trustee of Open City (the architectural education charity behind Open House), picks five favourite buildings open to those who turn up on the day.
Evelyn Grace Academy
A state school in the run-down backstreets of Brixton designed by Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most radical and inventive architects. A project from a different, pre-austerity era, an effort to give the students spaces to match the ambition of the rigorous school. The design is extraordinary. A 100m running track slices through its centre, a visual arrow creating an unmissable way in. The walls swoop, swerve and curve in a complex collage of concrete, glass and steel. This was Hadid’s first London building, her aquatics centre at the Olympics site has just been completed and, although the school’s interiors are not quite as impressive as its exterior, it has had a hugely positive effect on students, many of whom now wish to become architects.
255 Shakespeare Road, SE24 OQN
Saturday 10am-1pm, tours are first come, first served and are likely to be popular
Foster + Partners Studio
This is one of the world’s great architecture studios. Crisp, clear and brilliantly lit, its lofty interior is dappled by the sun sparkling on the Thames outside. Norman Foster has become the most admired architect in the world, his office a phenomenal global machine producing slick, efficient buildings of merciless modern clarity throughout the world. This riverside office built in 1990 in what was then a neglected industrial landscape has anchored an ongoing regeneration, which has seen the Royal College of Art move in behind, with designer Vivienne Westwood and others. Foster’s own penthouse apartment is on the top and this building is one of his finest creations.
Riverside, 22 Hester Rd, SW11 4AN; Sat 10am-5pm
City of Westminster College
Another school, albeit for teenage students and adults, this one is a huge stack of exquisite Scandinavian design, by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen. Situated in the gritty urban mess around the Edgware Road, the building is assembled around an awesome central atrium, which creates a buzzing public plaza for students. The materials are typically Scandinavian, rich timber, raw concrete and plenty of glass – despite its size and depth this is one of the lightest buildings in the city. Its façade steps out over a public plaza, embracing the city. It is also, as you might expect, as green as you can get, with rainwater harvesting, green roofs and natural ventilation. There is a spirit of generosity and openness in the building which is characteristic of Scandinavian design.
Paddington Green Campus, W2 1NB; Saturday 10am-5pm
120 Fleet Street
The former Daily Express building, now inhabited by Goldman Sachs, is one of London’s select collection of great art deco gems. It was designed by Sir Owen Williams, an innovative engineer/ architect and its streamlined, black glass-clad mass looks as elegant today as it ever did. But it is the extravagantly-decorated lobby that steals the show. The ceiling is a dripping expressionist fantasy while the relief panels (depicting Britain and Empire) are extraordinary period pieces. Seemingly every detail, from the wavy terrazzo floor to the snake handrails is eccentrically seductive. Minimal exterior, maximal interior.
120 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BB; Saturday/Sunday 9am-4.30pm
19 Princelet Street
A preserved, though still unrestored, Huguenot weaver’s house in Spitalfields, this little building embodies east London history in the most striking way. Built in 1719, it was occupied first by an émigré family of French silk weavers, then housed an industrial school, a wood-carving workshop and then successive waves of immigrants including Jews fleeing pogroms in Poland. They established a synagogue in the building’s backyard and a secret meeting room beneath that – which became a hub of the anti-fascist movement in the 1930s. Another Jewish refugee, David Rodinsky, inhabited the attic in the late 1960s and seemed to disappear into his occult and mystical library, an episode hauntingly explored in reality and dark imagination by Iain Sinclair and Rachel Lichtenstein in Rodinsky’s Room. If ever there was a case for psychogeography, for the spirit of place continuing to exert influence on its history and haunting its future, this house is it.
19 Princelet Street, E1 6QH; Saturday/Sunday 10am-5pm