This weekend is the 20th London Open House Weekend, the hugely successful architecture event that sees thousands of the capital’s famous and not-so-famous buildings opening their doors to the public for free. The real beauty of Open House is that many of these buildings are normally closed to the public so it’s a rare opportunity to see inside some of the world’s most exceptional architecture, both old and new.
While Open House is a celebration of London’s culture, the riots that afflicted the capital this summer have led some to question how healthy that culture is. Open House therefore provides a brilliant opportunity to prove that London in its entirety remains a haven for architectural creativity and social diversity. So I have picked a selection of buildings from the areas worst affected by the riots that shows how architecture binds London together and helps forge the civic pride and humane citizenship that truly make London great.
CROYDON: Shirley Windmill
One of only a handful of windmills left in London, Shirley Windmill just east of Croydon town centre was lovingly restored to working order last year. The present 1854 corn tower replaced one burned down the previous year and was decommissioned in the 1920s. Despite its urban setting, its latticework timber sails and its tapering, cast-iron windshaft offer one of the most picturesque and idyllic impressions of an historic windmill you’ll find in the whole of South-east England.
EALING: Ealing Abbey
Ealing’s proud nickname is Queen of the Suburbs and buildings such as the spectacular Ealing Abbey explain why. Despite only being completed just before the First World War, its soaring pinnacles, vaulted nave and quoined hexagonal turrets render it one of the most exuberant examples of Gothic Revival architecture in London and instantly recall the glorious medieval chapels of Bath and Cambridge. Mounted on a magnificent flight of steps, its location amongst the pristine shaded suburban avenues of Ealing is unforgettably melodramatic.
ENFIELD: Enfield Town Library
The winner of this year’s Mayor’s Planning Award, Shepherd Epstein Hunter’s sensitive conversion of and extension to the original Edwardian library is a sterling essay in combining historic sensitivity with contemporary spirit. Its crisp glass and stone facades act as a pallid foil to the rich red brickwork and decoration of the original wing. Walk up nearby Gentleman’s Row to the canal side Coach & Horses pub and lose yourself in a sumptuous and secluded picture-postcard rendition of an untouched 18th century village.
HACKNEY: Well Street Surgery
Stock Wolstencroft’s new surgery adds a dramatic new louvered timber facade to the local streetscape. With its new Primary Healthcare Trust facilities and the refurbished steel framed factory at its rear, the surgery provides a compelling example of how the public sector can still achieve character and quality in an age of the austerity. Pop round to Tim Ronald’s iconic and lovingly restored Hackney Empire round the corner too.
PECKHAM: Peckham Space
The striking modern structure of Penson Architects’ exhibition pavilion features dynamic angles and boldly painted white and green timber. Standing across the square occupied by Will Alsop’s famous Peckham Library, it is another chapter in Peckham and Southwark Council’s rigorous programme of engaging, proactive community architecture.
TOTTENHAM: Tottenham Town Hall
The recently restored Tottenham Town Hall is one of the finest examples of the grandiose, neo-Baroque palaces built as London town halls between 1885 and 1914. Typically characterised by red brickwork, rich stone dressings, decorated towers and segmental arches, these lavishly ornamental buildings spoke of the power, wealth and pride of Edwardian and late-Victorian London. Other fulsome examples of the style are Old Greenwich Town Hall and Lambeth Town Hall. Tottenham’s fusion of Jacobean and Moorish styles, particularly in the magnificent Council Chamber, provide a uniquely esoteric offering.