The library at 190 South LaSalle is on the Open House tour in Chicago. The library at 190 South LaSalle is on the Open House tour in Chicago. The library at 190 South LaSalle is on the Open House tour in Chicago. (Photo: Courtesy Tishman Speyer)

How to take a peek inside architectural treasures

During Open House programs, cities around the world offer the public a behind-the-scenes look at historical buildings.

Open House, which allows the public into buildings they don’t otherwise have permission to access, is a gift for architecture enthusiasts and for the nosy. The initiative began in London in 1992 and has since spread to more than 30 cities across the globe, from Tel Aviv to Thessaloniki, Monterrey to Madrid. It seems it was destined for success. Humans are, after all, curious creatures. Who doesn’t want to know what lies behind closed doors?

But for founder Victoria Thornton, she couldn’t have imagined how quickly the Open House concept would grow and proliferate. "I never knew it would grow into what it is today,” Thornton told the BBC in 2013.

The buildings taking part in Open House are nothing if not varied. There are banks, ballrooms, city halls, commercial spaces, private residences, lived-in lofts, airport terminals, towers, tenement complexes, fire stations and even a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed vacation rental (the Emil Bach House in Chicago).

At this stage, the Open House global calendar of events is already well underway. Want to gear up for a weekend of snooping around sites that are normally off-limits? Here are some of the Open House events coming up in October.

Chicago

The Emil Bach House is a Prairie style house in Chicago that was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.The Emil Bach House is a Prairie-style house in Chicago that was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (Photo: Teemu008/Flickr)

Few cities have as esteemed an architectural reputation as Chicago, which underwent a vast rebuild following the Great Fire of 1871. Over the almost 150 years since, iconic skyscrapers, art deco masterpieces and Frank Lloyd Wright-designed residences have sprung up across the city. Its illustrious architectural heritage is reflected in the superb Open House event, which is run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and takes place from Oct. 17-18.

In previous years, buildings like the restored Blackstone Hotel, a grand neoclassic beaux-arts style structure; the 1980s-built 190 South LaSalle, a 40-story tower with a gold-leaf lobby ceiling and a striking gabled roof; and the pink 1920s-built Edgewater Beach Apartments, whose splendid pink façade would fit right in in a Wes Anderson set, are just a few of the gorgeous properties available to Chicago’s architecturally inquisitive denizens.


Jerusalem

Situated atop a picturesque Jerusalem hill, the Israel Museum features fine art and archaeology exhibits.Situated atop a picturesque Jerusalem hill, the Israel Museum features fine art and archaeology exhibits. (Photo: Courtesy the Israel Museum)

As one of the world’s oldest cities, Jerusalem has a truly diverse range of architectural offerings. Launched here in 2007, the Open House weekend this year takes place from Oct. 22-24, and provides the opportunity to check out more than 100 spots around the vibrant city.

While there are certainly plenty of buildings worth visiting (a natural history museum, a repurposed train station and more), what really caught our eye were some of the more unusual tours. Visitors can get an inside look at the dolls, games and childhood collectibles of the toy stockroom at the Israel Museum; tour the wildlife-stocked Gazelle Park (a newly opened nature reserve in the heart of the city); and get a sneak peek at the in-progress project for an archeological garden beneath Jaffa Gate from project planner and artist Ran Morin. And ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a bustling hospital? Now's your chance to find out as Open House cracks open the doors for unprecedented access to Shaare Zedek Hospital, one of the busiest in the city.


Dublin

A rare peek inside the Bartra Martello Tower, a fort that's been converted to a private home.A rare peek inside the Bartra Martello Tower, a fort that's been converted to a private home. (Photo: Ministry of Tourism)

The Irish Architecture Foundation is preparing for the 10th edition of Open House Dublin, which takes place from Oct. 16-18. Last year’s Dublin event was a hit with some 33,000 visits made. 2014 also marked the introduction of Dublin’s Open House Plus, a supplementary program of walking tours, exhibitions and film screenings. Nathalie Weadick, director of the Irish Architecture Foundation, explains why she believes the Open House concept is so enticing. “The democratic and civic nature of Open House is very attractive. There are no cost barriers and no exclusions; anyone can come along and enjoy an architectural tour," she says. "It’s also diverse: buildings of all types and periods open their doors and invite citizens and visitors to explore.”

The 2015 Dublin event is built around the theme of “This Place We Call Home,” and more than half of the program is given over to private homes and housing schemes, from preserved historic builds to unusual conversions. Among the highlights are the Iveagh Trust Museum Flat, an early 20th-century tenement, and the Bartra Martello Tower, a remarkable 1804 defense fort that has been converted into a private home.


Brisbane

Used for royal receptions and orchestral concerts, Brisbane City Hall will be open to the public next month.Used for royal receptions and orchestral concerts, Brisbane City Hall will be open to the public next month. (Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)

Eighty-eight of this Australian city’s most impressive buildings are throwing open their doors on Oct. 10 and 11. Queensland government architect Malcolm Middleton said that the event “tells Brisbane’s story – from our rich history, to how we live, work and play, to the future design and development of the city – by giving people the opportunity to discover some of Brisbane’s most loved and admired buildings, infrastructure and urban landscapes.”

Among the exciting offerings is the innovative still-under-construction Hobbs Park, which is located on the fourth floor of a 31-story office block, the city’s first railway station (Roma Street Station) and other heritage-listed gems, such as City Hall and the curiously titled John Mills Himself building, the name of which was emblazoned on the front façade after John Mills, a 20th-century printer, split from his partners.


Buenos Aires

The Buenos Aires House of Culture is an architectural landmark in the Argentine capital.The Buenos Aires House of Culture is an architectural landmark in the Argentine capital. (Photo: Ministry of Tourism)

Trailblazing Buenos Aires was the first Latin American city to stage an Open House weekend with the first edition held in 2013. Organizer Ignacio Queraltó explained to From the Grapevine how the idea took root after a member returned from volunteering at the Open House Barcelona event and felt inspired to recreate the experience. “[Buenos Aires] has incredible architecture – old and new – but most people are not aware of its architectonic heritage and contemporary production,” says Queraltó. “We use curiosity as bait. Our slogan is 'Haven't you ever been curious of getting inside somebody else's house?' People love to break the barrier between public and private places."

Among the buildings welcoming the public from Oct. 31-Nov. 1 are the city’s Metropolitan Design Center, which is housed in a repurposed historic fish market, and the lavish beaux arts-style House of Culture, the former home of Argentina’s La Prensa newspaper. Complementary activities, such as walking tours and surprise guerrilla gigs (in association with SOFAR, an organization that helps arrange live performances in unusual, intimate locations), round out the program.

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