Our picks for Open House Weekend

Plus floating churches and subway sounds

This year’s Open House Festival starts on Saturday and lasts for a week (although most of the good stuff happens over the weekend - which is why everyone calls it ‘Open House Weekend’).

If you’re unfamiliar with Open House it’s organised by the charity Open City (“dedicated to making London and its architecture more open, accessible and equitable”) and is designed to give Londoners access to buildings and environments they normally wouldn’t be able to see or access.

It’s an important and brilliant event… but, there is almost an overwhelming range of places to choose from and tours of the popular spots (Trellick Tower, 10 Downing Street etc) get booked up very quickly. Also, if we’re being honest about this, the Open House website does not make things easy. Do you browse by ‘themes’ and ‘collections’ or by ‘tours’ and ‘events’? Try and filter by ‘type of building’ and you get a list of 32 different options, one of which is ‘livery hall’.

A lot of people come up against this huge wall of options, see a lot of ‘fully booked’ messages and give up, so we thought we’d do a bit of the hard work for you (if you class clicking ‘next page’ forty-odd times as ‘hard work’) and highlight a few of the things we think are worth a visit.

An endangered, brutalist library

The South Norwood library was given a prestigious spot on this year’s Open House highlights list, and it’s easy to see how it held its own against the likes of City Hall and the Treasury. The floating concrete cuboid was designed in the mid-60s by architect Hugh Lea and it’s a brilliant example of municipal brutalism, plus it has some cracking signage (a “variation of a generic compressed Grotesk” for any font nerds out there).

More importantly though, the library is currently under threat of being demolished. Earlier this year Croydon council announced they were building a smaller library building nearby, which would operate a reduced service (in order to save money). The original library building is now likely to be sold to developers who will likely knock it down.

You can read more about the campaign to save the library here, and sign the change.org petition here. The library is open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday up until 3:30pm. You can book your place here.

Something for all the family

The Cartoon Museum only moved into its current location on Wells Street in Fitzrovia in 2019. It was a brave choice to move into an empty basement, but architects Sam Jacob Studio did an amazing job turning “the graphic world of cartoons into a three dimensional space full of humour and delight”.

While there’s not a lot of detail on the Open House site about what’s going at the museum this weekend, last year they did talk about “Special Collection talks led by our Curators, who will show special items not on display”. Plus, if you go there’s two great exhibitions on there right now for anyone who enjoys a bit of graphic art: Ralph Steadman: Hidden Treasures and V for Vendetta: Behind The Mask.

A winery under a railway

The Blackbook Winery might not be the most architecturally thrilling stop on this year’s Open House agenda (they’re in a railway arch in Battersea), but they do have plenty of “English quality wines” so that’s good enough for us.

Blackbook (who describe themselves as an ‘urban winery’) specialise in cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and only use grapes sourced from growers within two hours of the city. They are also unashamed Londonphiles, who “seek to reflect the vibrancy, colour, culture and energy of London in our wines, how they look, feel and taste.” So you can drink great wine and support a small London business. Win win!

Blackbook are opening their doors all Saturday and Sunday. You can book a place here.

‘The worst shopping precinct in the country’

We’re not exactly sure why The Museum of Neoliberalism is in the Open House Festival. It’s open to the public most of the time and it is of almost zero architectural importance. “The museum is situated in a shopfront in Leegate Shopping Centre,” reads the blurb on the Open House website, “which has been described by the Evening Standard as ‘the worst shopping precinct in the country.’”

Despite that, we’re very happy that The Museum of Neoliberalism is part of this year’s Open House, because it is the work of Darren Cullen, the “satirical artist, illustrator and writer” better known as Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives.

We first got to know Darren’s work when he created the brilliant Mail Metro Stickers (which you can still buy, by the way) and we’ve been following his work ever since. The Museum has been open since 2019 and has been used (as Shelly Asquith put it quite succinctly) to “creatively tell the tale of how market fundamentalism is ultimately killing us”.

The museum was closed during lockdown, but it is reopening from this week, which is as good excuse as any for it to be part of Open House. Go there. Buy stuff. Keep it going.

Or just buy a book

This year, Open House is supposed to have “a special focus on London’s pubs and breweries” although we can’t find much evidence of that on the website (beyond the aforementioned Blackbook Winery and The George Inn, the guided tour for which was booked up very quickly - you should just go and have a pint their instead, it’s lovely).

But Open City have produced a book called Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub, and it looks fantastic. There’s comedian Isy Suttie writing about “the pub’s role in promoting and hosting stand-up comedy”, Orit Gat (of The White Review) on “the experience of togetherness watching televised sport in The Hare”, and Lily Waite (of the Queer Brewing Project) on “the future of the pub as a queer space”. Plus, there’s a preface by one Sadiq Khan, and it comes with a limited edition beer mat.

And the rest…