diamond geezer

 Friday, September 17, 2010

It's London Open House weekend! OK, so it kicks off tomorrow, but today's your last chance to plan and plot which fascinating buildings to visit this year. There are more than 700 to choose from, and you haven't got a hope of visiting more than a couple of percent of them. Better select your handful with care.

It used to be easier, because the event didn't used to be so popular. You could turn up on the day, even at the more specialist locations like the Cabinet Office or St Pancras Midland Hotel, and still be pretty certain of getting inside. No longer. The queues at some buildings are ridiculous, and unless you arrive first thing in the morning you face the choice of queueing for hours or giving up and walking away. Several institutions have raised the drawbridge and become "pre-book only". You have to ring or email in advance (it's almost certainly too late now), and hope that you're fast enough or lucky enough to get a ticket. At some of the 'biggie' locations, it's almost farcical. Tower 42 (ex Nat West Tower) is open for a measly four tours this weekend, each accepting only ten people. The forty tickets went up for grabs on the Open House website at 9:57am on Monday 9th August. By the time I'd typed in all the necessary details and clicked underneath, the site informed me that sorry all four tours were fully booked. I immediately switched to Centre Point, only to discover after typing everything in that all 180 places there had been snapped up too. And all this before the official 10am kickoff. Ah well. I did get my third place special, which I'll tell you all about later.

One of the tricks in working out where to go for Open House is not to waste your time going to places that are normally open anyway. Another is to check precisely where you're going on a map before you get there, because it's not always easy to find the building with the big green banner if all you have is the street name. And another is to pick places fairly close to one another, because you don't want to waste half your day on trains or even worse on bloody rail replacement buses.

So here are a few suggestions for you. Some central biggies, in case these are places you've never visited before. And some enjoyable locations further out, because not all of London's most amazing buildings are in the centre.

Royal Courts of Justice (Sat): behind the scenes of this vast Gothic building, including courts and cells (a great couple of hours)
Broadgate Tower (Sat, Sun): the new skyscraper north of Liverpool St station (the view from the 17th floor's pretty good)
Foreign Office & India Office (Sat, Sun): opulent Whitehall building, paid for by the fruits of empire (queues likely)
Freemasons Hall (Sat): ornamental inner temple in Holborn, and HQ of the rolled-up trouser brigade (trowel not essential)
Village Underground (Sat): tube carriages on top of a viaduct in Shoreditch (now used as artists studios)
City Hall (Sat, Sun): Boris doesn't allow the public in as often as Ken (but you can do roof and ramp this weekend)
Marlborough House (Sat): Edward VII's stately pile on Pall Mall is now HQ to the Commonwealth Secretariat (I went in 2008)
St Anne's Tower (Sat): I've not been up this Soho church belltower, but M@ from Londonist's swears that the climb to the top is the one of the scariest ascents he's ever made (here's M@'s pick of science-based OH venues)
One Bishops Square (Sun): a not-quite-in-the-City office block (been open a couple of years now)
Roof Gardens (Sun): unlikely horticultural hideaway above Kensington High Street (arrive very early!)

No 1 Croydon (Sat, Sun): otherwise known as the 50p building (because it looks like a pile of coins)
Barnardo's Village (Sat, Sun): charitable village for poor Victorian urchins (get the tube to Barkingside)
Slice of Reality (Sun): that sliced ship moored just north of the Dome (yes, you can go aboard)
Becontree Estate Bus Tour (Sun): I went on one of Barking & Dagenham's Open House minibus tours once. I was the only person who turned up (Hopefully this four hour Sunday tour will be a little better attended)
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Sat, Sun): 2000 tonnes of Hindu temple in Neasden (insight into a completely different world)
Alton Estate: East and West (Sat): anyone fancy a guided walk of Roehampton's Modernist council estate? (I'm tempted)
Peckham Library (Sat, Sun): go behind the scenes of South London's most radical bookstack (one of my many Southwark visits last year)
Linear House (Sat, Sun): there are some smart domestic homes to explore in the suburbs (one of my many Haringey visits last year)
Trinity Buoy Wharf (Sat, Sun): London's only lighthouse plus the Container City studios (plus Fatboys Diner, yum)
Balfron Tower (Sat, Sun): Trellick Tower is already fully booked, so try the Poplar alternative (getting to the 27th floor may involve queuing)


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