Open House London provides tourists and locals the opportunity to discover what lies behind the doors of the city’s most prestigious, exclusive and significant buildings. These properties are usually out of bounds to the public but with Open House London, it is possible to discover the secrets that lie inside these properties. The London Festival of Architecture has also been providing access to some of London’s best buildings for years that were designed by incredible architects. Here are a few that we always love seeing…

1/ Barbican Centre
2/ The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station
3/ United States Embassy
4/ National Theatre
5/ BT Tower

Barbican Centre

> Date Built: 1982
> Architect: Chamberlin, Powell and Bon

Designed by one of the top London Architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, The Barbican was part of a vision to reinvigorate and transform of the city after the devastation of the second world war. Barbican used to be the name of a busy commercial area but by the 19th century, it was the capital for rag trade. After World War II the Corporation of the City of London was keen to rebuild the area which had been destroyed through the Blitz.

The new centre took a decade to build and was opened in 1982 by the Queen. She declared the area one of the ‘modern wonders of the world.’ It was ambitious in scale and cohesion. This is considered to be a venue that is recognised internationally and is often considered one of the key architectural developments of the 20th century. Today, the Barbican is an arts and learning centre and one of the focal points of London. You can find everything here including dance, music, theatre and film. The total design of the building covered 2000 flats, two schools, and a complete art centre. It even required a realignment of the underground line that was located close by.

Image Courtesy of
Image Courtesy of

The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station

> Date Built: 1865
> Architect: Charles Henry Driver

If you head over to Peckham Rye Station, you might be fascinated to learn that there is in fact, a secret room on the second floor! It was closed to the public for over 50 years, but now you have the chance to view the old waiting room. This room was once considered one of the grandest station waiting rooms around and is now being restored back to its former glory. Designed by one of London’s top architects Charles Henry Driver, he was originally responsible for the design of this room back in 1865, but this was bricked up in 1961.

However, the architect firm Benedict O’Looney Architects worked with Network Rail back in 2016 to restore this magnificent building. Before the restoration of the room could begin though, it was necessary to first create access via the grand staircase.

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Image Courtesy of The Embassy of the United States of America in London

United States Embassy

> Date Built: 2017
> Architect: Kieran Timberlake

Back in 2010, the company behind this stunning structure won the contract to build the brand new United States Embassy on the edge of the River Thames in London. The official opening of the embassy was not until January 2018 but proved to be a huge hit with everyone. The glass cube that is covered in shimmering plastic was designed by one of London’s top architects Kieran Timberlake. It rests upon a plinth and is surrounded by a pond that borders with the Thames.

The structure cost £750 million to complete and was designed with particular attention to security while boasting a beautiful open design. The embassy is 65 meters tall and is a ‘transparent crystalline cube’. This design was carefully thought out and the building is supposed to emphasise and represent transparency, openness, and equality according to Timberlake. As these are the ideals of the United States, it only seemed fitting to include them in the design, which is the main reason for the use of glass throughout a lot of the building. Another interesting fact about this building is that it is made using reasonably sourced materials in an effort to show a dedication to moving towards saving the environment.

The previous embassy was no longer serving the needs of the staff as the working environment evolved since its construction. The building was designed by modernist architect Eero Saarinen and completed in 1957. It was given Grade II listed status because of its special facade, which means the building’s design cannot be altered. This is a great example of scenario architecture… designing a space based upon the needs of the occupants focusing on how we move around a building and what can improve our quality of life through small details.

National Theatre, image courtesy of Wikipedia

National Theatre

> Date Built: 1976
> Architect: Denys Lasdun

The National Theatre has often been described as a massive slab of concrete that has been molded and dropped in the center of London. However, that doesn’t quite provide the full scope of what this property is a classic example of post-war modernist architecture. Designed by one of the top London architects, Denys Lasdun, the Theatre openined in 1976 but work originally began in the early ’60s. The brutalist design is stunning for those who appreciate this type of style and Lasdun was actually one of the most popular and successful architects of his time. As well as the National Theatre, he was responsible for ziggurats for the University of East Anglia. Original plans for the National Theatre were incredibly ambitious with Lasdun planning balcony levels above the waterfront for socialisation. While the property does provide space where the public can lounge throughout the day, there are plenty of areas completely closed off unless you take an open tour.

In 2013, work began on the most recent renovation taken up by Haworth Tompkins. The aim was to create a brand new theatre space as well as multiple workshops.

BT Tower, image courtesy of Wikipedia

BT Tower

> Date Built: 1965
> Architect: Eric Bedford and G. R. Yeats

The property was designed by two of the top London architects G. R. Yeats and Eric Bedford, the property is concrete with glass cladding. The cylindrical design was not chosen as a style choice but rather to ensure that it matches requirements for communications ariels. The building is designed to move very little even in wind speeds of up to 95 mph. This in itself is an incredible architectural achievement.

Construction of the property originally began in 1961 and the entire construction process cost £2.5 million. Today, there is a popular revolving restaurant located in the building that provides stunning views of central London. It is however still restricted for individuals who are either BT shareholders or former employees. Open House London is one of the only ways to get inside this iconic location as a member of the public.

There are countless buildings throughout the capital that are closed off to the public. However, Open House London, it is possible to gain free access to these incredible sites.

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