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Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
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See London Like Never Before During Open House London 2017

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 12 June 2018
With more than 800 buildings opening their doors to the public from September 16–17, there are plenty of incredible landmarks and lesser-known treasures to visit that usually remain under lock and key. We’ve selected some of the less-obvious gems that will give you a new perspective of this spectacular city.

Isokon Building

This Grade I-listed building by Wells Coates in Hampstead is one of the UK’s most architecturally significant buildings and has had some pretty star-studded residents in the past. The 1930s block of flats housed Bauhaus School founder Walter Gropius and designer Marcel Breuer, while the likes of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson were regulars at the Isobar restaurant, which was formerly the communal kitchen. Still the material of the moment (with the V&A is currently showing an exhibition on it), plywood was used throughout the apartments as building owner Jack Pritchard worked for plywood company Venesta. A building as relevant and cool now as it was in its heyday, the Isokon Building is a real ’30s gem.

September 16-17, Lawn Road, NW3 2DX, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

This 19th-century Victorian government office was designed by architect George Gilbert Scott, who wanted to opt for a gothic look but was persuaded by then-Prime Minster Lord Palmerston to design it in a classical Italianate style. The decadent Durbar Court is an absolute must-see, as well as the Locarno Suite, which Scott referred to as a ‘drawing-room for the nation’, plus the grand staircase that certainly lives up to its name. Durbar Court was originally open-air and was first used in 1867 to welcome the Sultan of Turkey – the fabulous granite and marble columned structure has been extensively restored to its former grandeur.

September 16-17, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AH, see here for details.

Durbar Court at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Courtesy of Open House London
Durbar Court at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Courtesy of Open House London

55 Broadway

When it opened back in 1929 this spectacular building by Charles Holden was described as ‘the cathedral of modernity’. It certainly would have had a presence, being the tallest office block in the city at the time, overlooking St James’s Park. It was the headquarters of London Underground (known then as the Underground Electric Railways Company of London), and features lovely Art Deco details in the shopping arcade, plus sculptures by Eric Gill and Henry Moore (among others) as part of the ‘Four Winds’. If you’re a fan of Holden’s designs, University of London’s Senate House is also part of the Open House London weekend.

September 16-17, 55 Broadway, SW1H 0BD, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

155 Holland Park Avenue

This tiny flat might appear unassuming from the outside, but Brian Lewis’s London home is a show-stopping space that takes you on a tour through time – and around the world. From an Art-Deco style hallway, with doors inspired by the Chrysler Building‘s lifts, to a bedroom stylised as an ancient Thai temple complete with elephants, you’ll be fascinated and impressed by Lewis’ dedication to decoration. There are some real gems to watch out for, including a Victorian jardinière, which previously belonged to Elton John, and an animal-print couch designed by Ettore Sottsass.

September 16-17, 155 Holland Park Avenue, W11 4UX, see here for details.

155 Holland Park
155 Holland Park | Courtesy of Open House London

Christ Church Spitalfields

Christ Church was built as part of a church-building programme under the reign of Queen Anne to prevent the ‘godless thousands’ who were moving to Spitalfields and bringing their non-conformist ways with them. It was built by Christopher Wren’s protégé, Nicholas Hawksmoor, between 1714 and 1729 and is considered his masterpiece. The crypt has been recently redeveloped by Dow Jones Architects, and is now open to the public. The church has hosted some pretty huge events in the last few years, including a celebratory dinner for artists Gilbert & George and performances by The Feeling and Mika.

September 16 only, Commercial Street, E1 6LY, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

2 Willow Road

You couldn’t get a better example of a modernist home than Erno Goldfinger’s property, which was built in 1939 as part of a terrace of three houses. Much of the furniture and fittings Goldfinger created are still on display in the house, as well as his impressive collection of modern artworks. Goldfinger was up against strong opposition, with some claiming the buildings would be entirely out of keeping with the surrounding properties. His reply was this: ‘They are designed in a modern adaptation of the eighteenth-century style, and are far more in keeping with the beautiful Downshire Hill houses round the corner than their neighbours in Willow Road … As for the objection that the houses are rectangular, only the Eskimos and the Zulus build anything but rectangular houses.’

September 16-17, 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, NW3 1TH, see here for details.

2 Willow Road
2 Willow Road | Courtesy of Open House London

Salters’ Hall

This rare Brutalist Livery Hall, originally designed by Sir Basil Spence in the 1970s, has been given a £8.5 million makeover recently and is a shining example of Brutalist architecture. A new pavilion, exhibition and archive space and garden have now been opened as part of the refurbishment by architectural firm De Metz Forbes Knight. This building – used as the headquarters for livery company the Worshipful Company of Salters – is just across the road from the Barbican (another Brutalist icon that’s open during the weekend) and displays an intriguing blend of post-war frugality and traditional British ceremony.

September 16 only, 4 London Wall Place, EC2Y 5DE, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

It might take a while to get your head around this impressive yet unusual building on first glance – its gently curving structure and its mirror-like glazing create a sense of illusion and wonder, which is heightened by the colourful cladding. This is also the world’s largest purpose-built contemporary dance centre, which was created by Herzog & de Meuron, a partnership responsible for other contemporary masterpieces including Tate Modern’s Switch House and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg.

September 17 only, Creekside, SE8 3DZ, see here for details.

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance | © Martin Jordan

Tin Tabernacle

This 19th-century makeshift church in Kilburn has miraculously stood the test of time and is just one of the two remaining tin churches in London. Built in the 1860s, the Grade-II listed corrugated iron structure was used as a place of worship until the 1920s, when it was taken over by St Mary’s Sea Cadets. The cadets transformed the interior of Tin Tabernacle to resemble a boat, with portholes, decks and even a Bofors gun. It’s now a unique part of Kilburn’s history and local culture, hosting a variety of events including film screenings, art exhibitions, live music and even cabaret.

September 16-17, 12-16 Cambridge Avenue, NW6 5BA, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Crystal Palace Subway

It’s unlikely you’d know this hidden gem existed as its tucked under the A212 at Crystal Palace Parade. However, despite its inconspicuous whereabouts, the Crystal Palace Subway is an incredible space that’s worth seeking out. The Grade-II listed Victorian subway looks more like a vaulted crypt and was designed by Charles Barry to connect the High Level Station to the Crystal Palace. This space has seen many guises: during World War II it was converted into an air-raid shelter; in the 1960s it was a makeshift playground for children; and in the 1970s it hosted ‘Subway Superdays’, which were cultural and educational days that continued into the 1990s. It even makes an appearance in the Chemical Brothers’ video for their hit single ‘Setting Sun’.

September 16-17, Crystal Palace Parade, SE19 1LG, see here for details.

Crystal Palace Subway
Crystal Palace Subway | © James Balston

Baitul Futuh Mosque

This incredible contemporary mosque by Sutton Griffin architects is the largest purpose-built mosque in the whole of Western Europe and can hold as many as 13,000 worshippers. It’s an imposing structure, with its marble cladding, steel dome and the incorporation of the old dairy’s 36-metre chimney, which now stands as a minaret. The architectural firm wanted to combine Western influences, particularly British culture, with Eastern traditions to create a contemporary building that still pays homage to traditional Islamic art and architecture. Lead architect Patrick Griffin said of the project: ‘This was, and continues to be, undoubtedly one of the most challenging and exciting projects of my career to date.’

September 16-17, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, 181 London Road, Morden, SM4 5PT, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

W Plumb Family Butchers

If you ever imagined what the shops looked like upon hearing ‘the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker’ (a line from the old nursery rhyme Rub-A-Dub-Dub), this would probably be as you’d picture it. This magnificent Victorian butchers conjures up the archetypal idea of the old-fashioned British shop of a bygone era – and it essentially hasn’t changed since the day it opened. The elaborate interior includes the original art nouveau tiling, the mahogany cashier’s booth with decorative etched glass and scrolled meat rails.

September 16-17, 493 Hornsey Road, N19 3QL, see here for details.

W Plumb+Butchers
W Plumb+Butchers | © Richard Travers

Freemasons’ Hall

This monumental building is one the UK’s best examples of Art Deco architecture and was built to commemorate the 3,000 freemasons that were killed during World War I. Built between 1927 and 1932, the design by Ashley & Newman is a sight to behold inside, with beautiful stained glass windows, decadently decorated ceilings and stunning examples of mosaics. The hall is now a very popular filming location and you may have spotted it in Sherlock Holmes, Spooks and even The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

September 17 only, 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ, see here for details.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Peckham Waiting Room

Once considered to be one of London’s grandest waiting rooms, Peckham Rye Station has been a labour of love for local architectural firm Benedict O’Looney, which has been slowly restoring this Victorian hall to its former glory. The abandoned waiting room was bricked up in the 1960s and had been left derelict until recently. Benedict O’Looney Architects has been doing extensive work on the beautiful iron staircase that links the waiting room to the rest of the Grade II-listed station. Once the entire project is complete, Peckham Rye Station will become a true historic gem of the traditional British railway system.

September 16-17, Station Arcade, Rye Lane, SE15 5DQ, see here for details.

Peckham Rye Waiting Room
Peckham Rye Waiting Room | Courtesy of Open House London

Open House London runs from September 16–17. For the full list of buildings open during the weekend, visit their website here.

Want to see more hidden gems in London? Check out this list of ones to see in every borough here.