Open House Weekend 2015: What to visit around the West End and Westminster

Every September, Londoners get to do something very special for one weekend. Some of the capital’s most beautiful, unusual and architecturally significant private buildings throw open their doors and allow us to nose around inside. From little-seen churches to the beaten-up backstage areas of Brixton Academy to the grand modernist interiors of London Underground’s HQ, it’s a feast of different spaces and different styles. There are few better showcases of the city’s varied history and cultural mix.

This year Open House takes place on September 19 and 20. Here’s our pick of the Open House events going on in our neighbourhood…

 

22 Whitehall

Admiralty Screen

Credit: Steve Cadman (https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/)

A Grade I-listed government building that has modern office facilities cleverly integrated into a protected Georgian exterior. The structure in front of the complex is known as the Admiralty Screen, and was added by the architect Robert Adam in 1788.

Getting there: Walk straight down The Strand and bear left onto Whitehall.

How to get in: Turn up and queue. It’s open from 10am on Saturday and Sunday first-come, first-served.  

68 Dean Street

More Georgian architecture, but this time on a domestic scale. 68 Dean Street has changed very little since the 1730s, when it was home to John Meard Junior, who inherited a highly influential family carpentry business. “Indeed,” says the Open House programme, “much of 18th century Soho was probably built by Meard Senior and Junior.” Expect a feast of craftsmanship throughout the wood-panelled interior.

Getting there: Walk via Covent Garden, Charing Cross Road and Chinatown (about 15 minutes), or shorten the walk but taking the 13 or 139 bus from outside Strand Palace to Piccadilly Circus, then strolling up Shaftesbury Avenue to Dean Street.

How to get in: Come for one of the on-the-hour tours (except 1pm, final tour 4pm). The house is only open on Saturday.  

Channel 4 HQ

'Monument to the Unintended Performer' by Tony Heaton, Channel 4 Building

Credit: Loz Pycock (https://www.flickr.com/photos/blahflowers/)

The TV channel’s landmark building has a curved glass-and-steel front leading to an impressive atrium. It’s also famous for the witty, ever-changing ‘4’ sculptures in the front courtyard. Tours won’t include studios, but they will give you an insight into one of London’s most distinctive modern buildings, designed by Sir Richard Rogers.

Getting there: Head down The Strand to Embankment underground station, and go two stops south to St James’s Park. The building is five minutes’ walk away, down Broadway and Strutton Ground.

How to get in: Pre-booked tours only, running on both Saturday and Sunday. Email openhouse@channel4.co.uk to get yourself on the list.

 

Regent Street Cinema

You don’t have to wait for Open House to see inside this historic cinema, first opened in 1848 – thanks to a recent restoration, it’s now showing films again. But the Open House weekend gives you a chance to go behind the scenes and find out about the building’s past. It was the first in Britain to show moving pictures.

Getting there: Again, start by heading down to Embankment underground. Go two stops north to Oxford Circus – the cinema is just over a minute away on Upper Regent Street.

How to get in: Just turn up. Tours are first-come, first-served, and take place from 10am to 1pm on Sunday.

 

Art Loo

A real wild card. Sited in a churchyard off Wardour Street, this quirky oak capsule houses a public toilet and a micro-museum of Soho history, with ‘exhibits’ and photographs in recesses of the turquoise walls. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Getting there: Follow the instructions for 68 Dean Street – Wardour Street is one block west. St Anne’s Churchyard, where the capsule is based, is at the south end, close to the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue.

How to get in: First-come, first-served visits from 11am to 3pm on Saturday.

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