Preview: London Open House 2012

For urbanites, snoopers and architecture fans, Christmas comes early this weekend, when London Open House festival returns.

For those who’ve not been before, the premise is simple. Hundreds of London buildings that are usually off-limits to the general public open their doors and welcome us in.

Over 750 buildings will take part this year, from the mighty Gherkin and Lloyds building in the City, to tiny private residences in the suburbs. Everything from sewerage pumping stations, to tiny churches, to modern office blocks to a flower-arranging society is part of the programme.

Open House has, in some ways, become a victim of its own success. An increasing number of properties require pre-booking, and such was the demand back in August that the booking system collapsed. Fortunately, most venues still allow you to turn up on the day without reservation, although you might find long queues outside the more famous landmarks. With a bit of planning and willingness to explore lesser-known quarters, however, you can still fit in dozens of historic and impressive buildings over the weekend.

Here are just five recommendations:

Somewhere classic: The Bank of England takes part every year, but offers the rare opportunity to see some of the important spaces within the complex, including a central courtyard, Roman paving and the court room. The tour finishes in the Bank’s museum.

Somewhere brutalist: The Royal College of Physicians besides Regent’s Park is perhaps the most attractive example of brutalism, with sleek outer lines, well-maintained concrete and a splendid interior.

Somewhere art deco: And another medical recommendation. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, near Senate House, is a handsome example of art deco inside and out. But you’ll also see the impressive modern annexe, the original library, and artwork “deemed too rude to be placed above the front door of the building when it opened in 1929″.

Somewhere homely: 15 and a half Consort Road in Peckham is a private residence with some very cool features, including a sliding roof for open-top dining, and a hot tub underneath the bed.

Somewhere with a good view: There are plenty of towers on offer this year, but the best view with smallest queue is likely to be 30 Crown Place, just north of the City. It’s only 16 storeys, but you get unimpeded views of the City cluster and north London. Keep your eyes open for the crafty directions to William Blake’s final resting place.

Free guidebooks can be picked up from selected London libraries, or you can buy one from any venue on the day for £6.50. An iPhone app is also available for £3.99.

Where would you recommend?

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  • Sean

    Lloyds of London’s always a fascinating one to visit. Even though the queue may seem long they get people in and you really get a sense of this amazing piece of architecture. They also provide literature for guests and a free audio tour you can download via iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/lloyds-of-london/id465693697. Its on my list for this year again.

  • Mike

    There’s a late addition for art deco fans:

    120 Fleet Street (ex Daily Express)
    120 Fleet Street EC4A 2BB
    Sat/Sun 9am-4.30pm. Pre-BOOK only on dailyexpress.building@uk.issworld.com. Last entry 4pm. Max 20 at one time. D
    Dazzling foyer restored to its 1930s splendour; the best British example of the Art Deco style. Sir Owen Williams/Robert Atkinson 1932. Entry: ground floor only.
    Tube: St Paul’s; Rail: Blackfriars; 11,23

  • ratatortt04

    Somewhere to stay and sleep in London while enjoying the Open House 2012..
    http://bookingsuk.net/london/