Ahh – the annual event of analaysing in anal detail the always ACE Open House London brochure, ahead of trekking off around the hidden delights of the city for one weekend only.
You might as well have a BIG rubber stamp saying YOU’RE BLOODY JOKING for the BIG hitters such as the Bank of England or Battersea Power Station. If your idea of an Open House is to queue half the day away then you’re clearly looking at size over experience.
Which always leads to disappointment.
A Wham Bam, thank you Mam down at Battersea was the original BIG hitter that was on our agenda. One last chance to see the original workings of the Transpontine Cathedral ahead of VNEB being turned into a theme park for foreign investment.
Tweets the night before suggesting two miles queues for Battersea (blimey) led to something of an Open House re-think early on Sunday morning. South London is still waiting to be explored in all its Transpontine splendour.
But Battersea can wait. Sunday was all about heading East and seeing what delights the edges of the City could offer on the most open of open weekend of the year.
Size, form and functionality were all covered. We departed the East End feeling satisfied, if slightly seedy for overlooking the beautiful South.
But before the architectural satisfaction, how about a little foreplay with a BIG boy that is currently spunking his load all across central London?
Crossrail is a bloody beast – and so was the queue for the Moorgate Open House weekend tour walking below ground and out towards Liverpool Street. You have to feel for the hapless TfL folk who really tried their hardest to appease the growing queue at 9am for a 10am opening. 140 places had been allocated for the viewing through until 4pm. The queue doubled this amount an hour ahead of opening.
Phew – rock and roll, etc.
I sneered ever so slightly (and very politely) as we entered the inner sanctum of the legal world. Open House should be all about transparency, community and a shared understanding of public and private space. Yet here I was sucking up to The MAN, smiling and saying thanking you every other minute for allowing me to look around your fearsome capitalist HQ.
It was pretty unspectacular at first.
A ‘robust’ bag search was to be expected.
“Anything to declare’ Sir?”
“Um, only half a dozen out of date cheese and onion rolls that I bought from the Tramp’s Buffet yesterday to avoid being ripped off by central London food prices.”
Probably not something that the Allen & Overy staff experience during the working week.
Our card had been marked, especially so with a pair of cut off combats trousers being the wardrobe for the morning. We had the impression that we were being watched very closely at every turn.
And why not?
This was a private working space where a company had very kindly invited the public in for a snoop around. A self-guided tour was in operation. You followed the red arrows, stayed away from the cordoned off sections and be prepared for one almighty legal case if you trespassed into the stationary cupboard.
Photogrpahs were strictly forbidden inside the building. Open House attendees were also a little absent on the ground. If you want to avoid the queues during Open House weekend then head for the workplace. It was a little weird walking around the offices early on a Sunday morning. Those Sunday night back to work blues had been brought forward twelve hours.
The interior at Allen & Overy was tasteful with modern art hanging from the walls, as well as the atrium ceiling. Smiling security staff greeted you at corridor along the self-guided tour. I’d wager that the leisurely Sunday morning stroll was a little more relaxed than the Monday – Friday careerist corporate struggle.
We turned a corner in the basement and entered the Health and Wellbeing Centre – a gym to you and me. A lone tread miller was being put through her paces. Fine work, Madam. I appreciated the irony of the obvious corporate treadmill parallels.
And then just as Allen & Overy had almost won me over with the ever smiling security staff, a right hand turn on the top floor and WOH!
A glorious roof garden was opened up to explore and enjoy looking out over the City and out towards Stratford. Late lavenders pollinated the air as you composed panoramic after panoramic shots of the superb City views. This was a hidden treasure of Open House, and one that hopefully too many folk didn’t miss as they stood in a singular queue all day waiting for a BIG hitter.
We left Allen & Overy having read an attempt at modern art to incorporated into the company careerist ethos:
“You can learn the law, but you can’t learn justice.”
Where do I sign up, Comrades? Can I get a free pass for the treadmill?
The brilliant Bishopsgate Foundation was then scheduled in as a back to basics comedown from the corporate world of Allen & Overy. Built by Charles Townsend as a companion piece for the Transpontine Horniman Museum 120 years ago, the ethos of the Bishopsgate Foundation is to provide a centre for learning and culture.
Over a Century later and this theme still runs strong. If the Big Society could be bottled into one building, then it would be found at the Bishopsgate Foundation – but the political twaddle of the nasty Tory hand wringers is nowhere to be seen. This is a place to learn about Marxism, anarchy and line dancing.
Once again: where do I sign up, Comrades?
The architecture itself is superb. Green tiles line every corridor and staircase. The Boardroom is the kind of interior where pipes were once smoked and gin was drunk ahead of agreeing on the latest social programme to help mobilise Marxism within the community.
Sunday saw an entire room being given over to a detailed oral social history of the area. The library interior was a wet dream waiting to happen for any architectural salvage yard enthusiast.
I was in awe, especially so at the £1 cups of builder’s tea. Revolutions have been delivered for less, Comrades.
And so after the corporate and the communal, something spiritual from the East End was required to conclude the Eastern leg of Open House weekend. I have a general rule of thumb not to enter into a place of worship on a religious day. Which must mean for Sunday that it was a rallying call of: To the Synagogue!
The Nelson Street Synagogue is the oldest surviving purpose built place of worship for the Jewish community in the East End. It is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a civic service next weekend.
That nice Mayor of Tower Hamlets has kindly allocated some funding from his Community Faith Building Support Scheme. Ace architect Maxwell Hutchingson is helping to restore the building to some of its former glory.
Not that it looks as though it needs a lot of attention. The roof is a priority, as is the removal of kitchen style strip lights – not very tasteful in an Orthodox Synagogue.
I had thought that the Orthodoxy might be a little overwhelming at first. A respectful wearing of a prayer cap, and the visit to Nelson Street was deserving of the Open House tag.
The Synagogue volunteers were charming, helpful and funny.
Jokes were even made during a half hour tour of ‘tired and emotional’ worshipping, and even some self-referencing tales of Judaism and a careful consideration of money.
You left thinking that although religion was the main activity taking pace in the building, a sense of community was just as strong. But what happens to a Jewish community building when the Jewish community more or less moves out of the area?
A theoretical question for another day, and one in which there are no doubt many open answers.