Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Find Ideas, Be Inspired by Our Best Homes

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Find Ideas, Be Inspired by Our Best Homes

Article excerpt

Byline: Philippa Stockley

VICTORIA Thornton, a confessed "buildingsaholic", founded Open House at her kitchen table in 1992, aged "30-something", and this year she was awarded an OBE for her work. In 20 years, this city-wide annual event has gained a phenomenal following and this month (September 22-23) it expects to attract more than 300,000 curious Londoners, often queuing, keen to get a look at other people's homes.

Her first event had only 20 buildings on the list. Now, 750 places take part, of which 100 are residential. There is also every kind of public building, from a pumping station to the Gherkin (which had queues a mile long when it first showed).

Before you ask, the Shard, not quite ready yet for such an onslaught, has signed up for next year.

And Open House is now global -- 25 other countries run their own version and, as long as they are free, not-for profit and maintain quality, they are allowed to use the name.

In 1992, Thornton, a writer who lives with her architect husband in an Edwardian mansion block on the edge of Hampstead Heath, had just published a guide to London architecture, painfully aware there wasn't much good contemporary architecture in London and the subject wasn't taught in schools. "But," she says, eyes alight, "if we aren't taught, if we aren't informed about it, how can we join the debate, argue for something better?" The best way to learn, she says, is to visit good buildings. Thornton explains that she gave Open House its name to make architecture feel available to everyone. Her ambition was to help Londoners learn to love their city in the easiest, most fun way possible.

"It's not a tourist thing," she says firmly. "It's for Londoners."

This intelligent, laid-back approach has paid dividend after dividend. The event has no Government funding but is funded by individuals, local authorities and other bodies.

"People love it. They get to explore their city, and to think about it. If you have a horrible environment, it reflects on you," she says. "I won't say that architecture changes lives, but it impacts on them. …

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