diamond geezer

 Friday, September 20, 2013

When London Open House weekend comes round, the biggest decision is to decide where to go. There are more than 800 properties to choose from altogether, but time is short, so which to visit? It can take a long time to plough through the printed guide, or search through the website, or scan through the app. So many locations, so many options,so many highlights, so many places you could leave until next year. But there is another big decision to be made once you've drawn up your shortlist. And that's which one of them to visit first.

Whether you want to visit a handful of Open House venues or a lot, it's important to have a rough idea of what order to visit them in. Nothing's more wasteful than going first to the one place you really wanted then walking out at the end and aimlessly wondering oh, so where next? There might be nowhere decent nearby at all, or your next target might be on the other side of town, or you might have enormous trouble working out where all the other sites are in relation to where you are now. Open House have solved the latter, on their app if not in their programme, with a geolocation map showing "Buildings near me". For the less technological they've even produced printable maps for certain key locations like the City, Bermondsey or Tower Hamlets, which'll be a boon for anyone who wants to spend their day exploring rather than travelling. But still, where to go first?

You might be tempted to begin somewhere near your home. An easy start, then work your way around the rest of the capital later. But that might well be a mistake. Unless you live somewhere especially interesting, the Open House buildings near your home aren't likely to be particularly special. Still fascinating to visit, but no queues, so no need to rush. Indeed you might then be rather annoyed on reaching your next location, perhaps somewhere more central, to discover that lots of other people have got here already. Turn up at Lloyds of London or the Bank of England around lunchtime, for example, and you'll probably meet queues stretching round the block, and then some. Because those people did what you should have done. They went to the blockbuster first.

Most Open House venues open for the day at 10am. The hour before 10am is therefore wasted time, and the ideal time to queue. Indeed you can overtake all sorts of people if you're willing to wake up that bit earlier. They'll amble up at 9.55am which they thought was a decent time, then stare disheartened at the length of the queue and wish they'd stood around for longer. Come on, queueing used to be boring, but now you can fiddle with your smartphone while you wait and the time flies by. If you really want to go on the Crossrail tour of Liverpool Street station or look inside Admiralty House on Whitehall, don't arrive at 2pm because the queue'll be massive. Turn up at 9am and attempt to guarantee your place.

But you can overdo it. I turned up at one venue in Camden last year at stupid o'clock convinced there'd be a queue, and there was nobody. There was still nobody half an hour later, and barely a trickle come official opening time. I felt damned stupid, especially when I could have been somewhere else using my time more efficiently to queue for something more popular. And rarity value isn't always a guide. A couple of years back I was utterly certain that the Commonwealth Institute would be a crowd-puller so arrived at nine o'clock and, oh, I'm the first one here am I? It was interesting to chat to the volunteers, when they weren't rushing around tying banners and trying to organise who stood where, but I still felt wholly sub-optimal.

Another good start-of-the-day tip is to find a venue that opens before 10am. Head there first and you'll have extended the length of your Open House day by 10% or more, and ticked off another building in the process. Merton's Buddhapadipa Temple opens at 9, as do Chartered Accountants Hall and the Bank of England in the City. This year's earlybird prize goes to a very special building indeed, and that's the Gherkin. This opens at 9am on Sunday and 8am on Saturday, presumably in a valiant attempt to get as many visitors through the doors as possible. Even so, turn up at 8am and you'll probably still face the queue from hell. I was in the area one hour early last Open House weekend and the queue was already five streets long, such is people's desire to get to the top.

This year's other major blockbuster building is Battersea Power Station. Your last opportunity to see inside, positively the last chance, before the interior is turned into flats or an upmarket entertainment mall. Surely worth a visit, except for one awkward downside which is that it doesn't open until 11am. The queue will still be horrendous, but you'll need to arrive even earlier to have a hope of gaining entry. Try visiting Battersea Power Station and the hour between 10 and 11 will be dead time, time when other Open House patrons will already be inside other buildings visiting properly. Indeed by the time you finally get out you may have wasted most of the day, which is fine if this is the one place you really want to visit, but far less good if seeking diversity and breadth.

Other top tips. Do try not to waste your time going round buildings that are generally open to the public anyway, not unless there's an architect present with something to say. Watch out for buildings that are only open on Saturday and not Sunday, or vice versa, because it's awful dashing across town to somewhere that turns out to be closed. Try booking some visits in advance... which is really advice for next year, but certain buildings probably still have pre-book slots available. Blitz a small area of town rather than zigzagging wastefully across the capital, this can help to improve your day. Try to go up something, because going up something rocks. And plan ahead, know where you might like to go, else you'll miss something great you can't get inside again for another 52 weeks. So where are you going first?

Ten Open House specials for 2013
The Castle Climbing Centre (New River pumphouse on Green Lanes, includes ascent of tower!)
Heathrow pod: Personal Rapid Transit (hourly tours of the futuristic control room)
Lee Tunnel & Beckton Sludge Power Generator (who could resist sludge, eh?)
London Fire Brigade Museum (quick, before spending cuts close the place down)
William Booth College (in Denmark Hill, worth it for the view from the tower)
Gasholder No 8 (being rebuilt, with enclosed flats, at King's Cross)
Swakeleys House (Hillingdon's manor, infrequently open)
Stoke Newington Town Hall (recently restored)
Trellick Tower (yay... first come, first served)
Design Museum (free entry on Sunday only)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream