The Open House looks to open minds – the world

The early operating theatre, with galleries where medical students used to watch surgeries, is among London’s Open House gems. Submitted to China Daily

Across London this month, doors that would normally be closed are being opened, and the stories and lives behind them are being made public with an Open House festival.

What began in 1992 as a way to give people outside the architectural profession free access to some of the UK capital’s most iconic buildings, has evolved into a two-week festival spanning more than 800 venues and inspiring similar events, from Mozambique to Mexico that encourage people to explore where They live in it.

London’s 2023 lineup includes everything from a Victorian water pumping station described as a cathedral of sanitation to the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street, and allows people to look inside and discover the buildings and life within them.

Finn Harper, CEO of Open City, which organizes the event, said it was an opportunity to learn about the spaces and stories that shape London’s character.

“It used to be about the architecture, but now it’s broader, it’s about the community and the neighborhoods and the people who make the city what it is,” Harper explained.

“Some of the things people are most excited about are places they see every day, but can’t get into – we’re opening those doors. Some places can’t operate on the weekend but can operate during the week, so extending the program gives people the flexibility to be Part of it and also to visit places.”

One of the 2023 venues is the Old Operating Theater and Herb Garrett Museum, near London Bridge. Housed in the attic, it is a remnant of the original St Thomas’ Hospital, an institution still in existence and dating back to the 13th century.

In a time before modern science, herbs were stored there to make medicine, and it houses the oldest operating theater in Europe, from 1822. It is open at other times of the year, but engagement director Monica Walker said the open house helped raise awareness.

“We are a hidden gem, so the open house gives us the freedom to reach people who might not be able to afford it, and benefit from a broader climate of heightened awareness,” she said.

“We have been involved for several years and have found that Open House attracts more people – walking up the spiral staircase to find us creates a moment of discovery and excitement.”

Free entry is a way to speculate on the backlog when it comes to visitor numbers.

“Word of mouth is vital – recommendation is important, and often times the people who recommend us first will come here for free on Open House Day. Our visitors remember us, and at the end of the day, that awareness makes a big difference.”

The cosmopolitan theme of the ancient theater of operations is demonstrated by the diversity of its visitors.

“Everyone has a medical history, so everyone gets something from coming here,” she said. “Our guide app is available in many languages, and in July, about a third of our app downloads were in Chinese – medicine is global.”

Despite the presence of places like Downing Street in the program – a place where, unsurprisingly, there is a ballot for tickets – Harper said smaller venues like the Old Operating Theater were often the biggest surprises.

“Small museums are often the most amazing places,” Harper said. “A specialist museum can use Open House to attract more people or different types of people than usual, which is good for their audience, so we encourage them to do something extra, like have a conversation or activities.”

Harper said the open house was consciously looking to add new voices and perspectives.

“We get all kinds of people visiting us, and we now have a program of city curators, who are young people from underrepresented groups who produce events that will naturally attract a different audience,” Harper said.

Open House has continued to weather the pandemic with outdoor walking tours that are now a permanent part of its program, and Harper said it aims to continue expanding and evolving.

“Since London was the first, we are still seen as the pioneers of the Open House, but I look to other cities for inspiration, so, I hope it will be an exchange of mutual learning. We would love to see that happen in China.”

The open house started on September 6th and will run until September 17th.

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