diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Here are two Open House buildings that are open all year round, but which I didn't realise were open all year round until they appeared in the Open House listings. So you could go today.

Open House: The Post Building (Holborn)

A lot of new buildings smooth the acquisition of planning permission by promising public access to their uppermost storeys. The Post Building is one such, its 9th floor roof terrace open to everyone seven days a week but only if you know it's there, and prior to Open House they hadn't exactly been screaming about it. In good news the 9th floor is high enough to get some stunning views and in better news there's unlikely ever to be a queue.

The Post Building used to be the Post Office's West Central District Office, a concrete bulwark with a Mail Rail station in the basement. That closed around 20 years ago, was demolished six years ago and in its place has arisen a generic office block slotted between High Holborn and New Oxford Street. The marketing team claim it's "sitting at the junction of London’s five most vibrant and historically rich neighbourhoods", pure bolx which can only mean they haven't filled all the floors yet. But all you have to do is turn up between 10am and 7pm (or dusk if earlier) and find the door halfway down the north side.

The entrance lobby is very small, as befits somewhere not built for the benefit of paying clients. The architects retained a bit of one of the parcel slides, that's the painted spiral on your left, although I can confirm it looked a lot more impressive in situ. You'll need to wave some ID (I got away with a bank card) and have your bags checked, then walk through a beepy arch because security is key. And then it's into the lift, which because you're a pleb only has buttons for the 9th and ground floors so you can't accidentally wander into the Nationwide Building Society's tech hub inbetween. The lift's not fast. Also you probably won't meet anyone at the top, let alone a surprised nextdoor neighbour which was my unexpected exit experience.

A considerable roof terrace is available to explore, along three sides of the building and set across two levels, so if your initial reaction is "oooh!" it gets even better once you step up. The western half of the terrace is reserved for employees only so the best views are in all the other directions, but that won't stop you from seeing vistas you won't have enjoyed before. I hate to mention Midtown, the failed branding experiment for this immediate area, but it's precisely because you're in a lowrise zone midway between the West End and the City that the skyline has space to breathe.

North is the big surprise because the British Museum is only a few streets away and entirely unobscured, other than the steeple of St George's Bloomsbury (which isn't exactly a negative). In the centre is the glass roof added by Foster + Partners for the millennium, undulating like a giant (lime-flavoured) blancmange. This surrounds the nipply dome of the Round Reading Room and behind that is the side of Senate House. Throw in the full stalk of the BT Tower, some nearer Georgian terraces and a Hampstead backdrop, and this is a whole new perspective to enjoy.

The City rises to the east in a proper cluster, alas behind some of Holborn's uglier derivative offices. You can see how the Walkie Talkie stands alone, which is good because this allows the heart of Docklands to poke through in the gap, just behind the dome of St Paul's. The Gherkin is entirely obscured, alas, indeed this isn't the City's prettiest flank. But you can also tick off the Barbican, Broadgate and the Orbit way off in the Olympic Park, and if you spin round the other way there's Wembley's arch, an obligatory staple of the rooftop experience.

South is a bit more generic, enlivened only by Freemason's Hall, and beyond that the Shard of course, the South Bank's towers and an eruption at Elephant and Castle. The turrety tops of the Palace of Westminster are sandwiched between the roof of Charing Cross station and the pustules at Vauxhall, although you'll need a better camera than mine to do that justice. As for the chimneys at Battersea Power Station they're a lot further to the right than you might expect, behind the trees in St James's Park, indeed this is a great vantage point from which to reconsider your mental map of London.

More practically, yes they've provided toilets. Also look out for the anemometers because roof access closes if wind speeds exceed 25mph. No, it's not as amazing as a free trip up the Walkie Talkie but you can go any time rather than pre-booking and finding yourself in a long line of savvy tourists. Also it must be good because Ian Visits and M@ from Londonist have also just been, also nudged by Open House, as if everyone's discovered the Post Building at the same time. Discover it yourself.

Open House: The Fitzrovia Chapel (Pearson Square, Fitzrovia)

I've been a lot slower to this one, Ian visited in 2015 and Londonist made a video in 2020. It's a proper dazzler, a Gothic chapel built to serve the Middlesex Hospital, the rest of which was demolished in 2008. The chapel then sat alone on a levelled site while a surrounding redevelopment project came and went (NoHo? no thanks) so is now the centrepiece of a different millionaires' hideaway (ideal for those who want to live in a flat within walking distance of Oxford Street). From outside in Pearson Square it's no great shakes. Once inside it's amazing.

No hospital needs a chapel this glitzy, but all the funding came from benefactors so they could be as lavish as they wished. The walls are sheathed in coloured marble, the ceiling covered with golden mosaics, the lectern carved in alabaster and the font carved from a solid block of verd antique. Throw in plenty of decorative Latin text, an organ loft and several stained glass windows, and it's a surprise to discover the chapel was never officially consecrated as a place of worship. I was also intrigued to see that Mr Kipling's coffin laid in rest here, but it was only Rudyard, not the purveyor of cakes.

A building like this isn't cheap to maintain so they're very happy to see donations, or perhaps you'd fancy something from the bookstall table. Inevitably it's available for weddings but also exhibitions, fashion shoots, product launches, concerts, filming, corporate hire and (if you're a wealthy narcissist) proposing to your beloved. I confess it did look exquisite lit by flickering candles. But every Wednesday they open up to the general public between 11 and 4, so you could go today and see what's essentially a nave dressed up beyond the limits of excess.

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