How to Get Into Dozens of Private Architectural Treasures Around the World
Open House weekends provide exclusive insider access to beautifully designed buildings across the globe. Here are eight places to visit this fall as the architectural initiative grows in popularity—including Asia’s first participating city.
Macau, China, is better known for its glitzy casinos than its architecture. But in November, a group of design enthusiasts hopes to change that by welcoming the public into 50 of its distinctive buildings. Homes, schools, and fire stations that reflect Chinese vernacular, modernist, and classical architecture (sometimes) within blocks of each other will be open for viewing as part of Open House Macau, Asia’s first Open House weekend.
Macau is the 42nd city to join Open House Worldwide, an architecture festival founded in London in 1992. Each participating city offers free tours of notable buildings over one weekend (dates throughout the year vary by place). The concept has grown exponentially in the past decade. Over 30 new locations have come onboard since 2010, including 16 in the past two years alone. Naples and Valencia will participate in 2019.
Open House’s popularity comes as travelers increasingly seek insider access to spaces and experiences, often at a high price. The festival offers unique behind-the-scenes visits—and bragging rights—to the masses. At a time of rising urban inequality and gentrification, the weekends send a powerful message: The city belongs to all of us.
“Open House is one of the few events that has the power to democratize architecture,” says Nuno Soares, an architect and curator of Open House Macau. “We want to celebrate architecture inside the buildings. We want the general public to feel for themselves how special they are.”
This fall, two dozen cities on six continents will host an Open House weekend. Here are standouts on offer in eight of them.
Government Buildings, 7-9 Merrion Row
October 12-14, 2018
The Irish capital is known for its Georgian buildings, so it’s a surprise to see the contemporary Department of Finance just off St. Stephen’s Green. Visitors can go beyond the Ballinasloe limestone facade and bronze gate to see the bright interior, dramatic oak staircase, and city views. On the second floor, look east to glimpse a private 17th-century Huguenot cemetery next door. Designed by Grafton Architects, the office only dates from 2009, although this year’s Open House Dublin includes buildings from every decade from 1700 to the present.
Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn
New York City
October 12-14, 2018
The 16th Open House New York extends to over 250 locations in all five boroughs, ranging from Dutch homesteads to glass offices. The landmark 1908 Dime Savings Bank, new this year, encompasses past and present: A 1,066-foot skyscraper, 9 DeKalb, is going up above it. With marble columns surrounding a painted rotunda and three-sided bronze clock, Dime recalls downtown Brooklyn’s lost grandeur; 9 DeKalb will retain the banking hall, using it as an entrance. Its designers, SHoP Architects, will be onsite to explain how the glass-and-bronze tower plays off Dime’s historic features.
Alara Concept Store
October 13-14, 2018
Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, is having an architectural moment: Just look at David Adjaye’s Alara Concept Store, a red concrete head-turner on Victoria Island. On a tour during the third Open House Lagos weekend, one of the few guided visits that Alara allows, learn about the design process behind the 2015 building and its visual connection to the surrounding megacity. Interior designers will also explain how they transformed the triple-height space into a chic urban respite, with timber enclosures, a rooftop art gallery, and a garden café. The weekend will also highlight Lagos’s relation to the water, with a tour along Ilashe Beach.
Chicago Board of Trade Building
October 13-14, 2018
For over 80 years, the massive vault beneath the Chicago Board of Trade Building was closed to the public. In 2013, the Chicago Architecture Center unlocked the heavy door for Open House weekend, revealing thousands of empty steel safe deposit boxes that once held silver bars or receipts from the grain exchange. The vault and the art deco skyscraper above it are now highlights of the festival, which covers over 250 sites in the city and suburbs this year.
Lytton Quarantine Station
October 13-14, 2018
Brisbane’s ninth Open House festival will be its largest yet, with talks, concerts, and entry into 114 buildings. It’s a rare chance to explore the fascinating Lytton Quarantine Station, which received new immigrants to Queensland from 1914 to the early 1980s. Located at the mouth of the Brisbane River, the isolated site includes a bath house, disinfection block, boiler room, laundry, and dining hall. The well-preserved timber facilities were often an immigrant’s first experience of life in Australia.
The Lynn Building
October 19-21, 2018
Queen’s University Belfast celebrates the Lynn Building’s 150th anniversary with guided tours on Open House weekend. W.H. Lynn’s Victorian masterpiece, originally a library, was recently restored as the Graduate School and access is usually reserved for students. On the second floor, masonry Gothic arches crown an open, double-height space that looks straight out of Hogwarts. Next door, get close to the university’s iconic Lanyon Building, dating to 1849, on a hard-hat tour of its conservation.
Arc de Triomf
October 27-28, 2018
Open House weekend is the only time of the year when the public is allowed into Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, the Moorish-style monument was built as the gateway to the 1888 World’s Fair, held in the Parc de la Ciutadella. Casanovas gave the arch a classical shape, but constructed it in red brick with intricate stone friezes and ceramic details. Visitors can climb a narrow winding staircase to the top, where tiled domes and roaring lions overlook the Passeig Lluís Companys.
Escola Comercial Pedro Nolasco
November 10-11, 2018
A low-slung brutalist building surrounded by high rises, the Portuguese School is locally known for its distinctive “azulejo” facade, made of blue-and-white ceramic tiles. On Open House weekend, nonstudents can go inside to explore other aspects of Raúl Chorão Ramalho’s East-meets-West design. Outdoor patios, typical of Chinese vernacular architecture, are open to the air but protected from the rain, keeping the buildings cool, while sunshades borrowed from the architect’s work in Madeira control the heat in classrooms. The hybrid architecture creates a structure you could only find in Macau.