Explore hidden Clerkenwell

Now in its 31st year, Open House Festival takes place over two weekends in September when people open up their homes and buildings for visitors to explore and learn from.

By Rossitza Atanassova

The interior of a modern architectural house looking out onto the backs of more traditional Georgian houses
Sun Rain Room by Tonkin Liu. Photo: Alex James

I’ve lived in Clerkenwell for 21 years, and I’m still learning about its rich social history and architecture. It’s a lively and varied neighbourhood, evidenced by a mix of historic buildings, modern architecture and commercial spaces – and home to a thriving and welcoming community including local residents, workers and students.

One way I have been finding out more about my adopted neighbourhood is through the annual community-led Open House festival that celebrates London’s architecture, buildings and neighbourhoods. Now in its 31st year, the festival takes place over two weekends in September (from the 6th to the 17th) when people open up their homes and buildings for visitors to explore and learn from. Last year the Festival attracted 167,500 visits with several hundred sites made open and accessible to all.

Clerkenwell has regularly featured in Open House festivals and thus provides a rare opportunity for everyone to connect with local communities. It is through Open House that I discovered many of Clerkenwell’s sites, such as the London Metropolitan Archives, the Museum of the Order of St John and its grounds, plus innovative architecture designs, such as 15 Clerkenwell Close (the RIBA London and National Award 2018) and the modern office space of Bloom Clerkenwell by Farringdon Station.

I’ve particularly enjoyed visiting private homes in the neighbourhood, such as the Paxton Locher House in Clerkenwell Green with its modern atrium and another personal highlight being the guided tour of Marx Memorial Library led by a library volunteer – indeed, it was a great surprise for me to see, on display in the library, a coat that once belonged to a prominent 20th-century politician from Bulgaria where I was born.

Clerkenwell’s contributions to this year’s Festival include hidden gems, such as the Sun Rain Rooms at 5 Wilmington Square (by Tonkin Liu architects) and the historic offices of Zada Hadid Foundation (featured in the previous issue of EC1 Echo). There will also be an architect-guided tour of the new site for the Museum of London in the market buildings of historic Smithfield – but be aware there will be a ballot for this visit as it is expected to be so popular.

Aerial view of the site of the new London Museum at Smithfield
The London Museum at Smithfield. Photo: Secchi Smith

New additions to the programme are the Central Foundation Boys’ School’s walking tour showcasing its new architecture and facilities, and the heritage site of the New River Head, preparing to become the home of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

The festival welcomes everyone and presents the perfect opportunity for a day out and for meeting new people in Clerkenwell. What makes this event special is the number of volunteers who provide support, putting together the programme and helping at the many sites during the Festival. As a volunteer myself, I have found it extremely rewarding to meet new people, learn more about the city and give back something to the community.

We want to encourage more contributions to the Open House Festival from Clerkenwell residents and businesses. So if you are able to open up your place to visitors or showcase existing projects and designs, you can still submit your proposal for the Festival programme.

If you are interested in volunteering or simply want to plan your visit, take a look at the Festival website and we look forward to welcoming you to Open House 2023.

See:  programme.openhouse.org.uk

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