A tour guide’s view of Open House London at the RIBA, what happened that day and the reasons for participating.
On Saturday 22 September the RIBA headquarters was open as usual, but with a difference, unique rooms normally closed to the public were opened up. Staff-led building tours were also offered and that day the RIBA welcomed several hundred visitors for Open House London. 66 Portland Place was just one of the 750 locations across the capital open to the public that weekend.
Architecture is more than façades as most of us experience architecture from within – we spend more time in buildings than looking at them from the outside. Open House unlocks some of the greatest and least-known buildings in London and we can get to see how they work for their occupants – surely the real test of an architect’s skill. Architect George Grey Wornum successfully created, inside that austere block of Portland Stone, light-filled spaces that can accommodate a variety of uses and the movement of hundreds of people with ease.
A guide’s view
As a guide of one of those tours, it was a great opportunity for me to meet RIBA members and the public, many of whom turned out to have never visited the building before. I had the chance to show off this great building, pointing out the plethora of architectural details (this meant getting visitors to look up and down) and talk about the current work and history of the RIBA. Its history is literally written in stone, from the foundation stone in the basement dating from 1933, to the list of Gold Medal winners updated every year on the wall of reception. The tours took in rooms such as the wood-panelled Jarvis Hall and the leather-lined Aston Webb Room which are open only for special occasions, while visits to public spaces such as the British Architectural Library and Florence Hall included details about their past and how they work. On previous tours, visitors with experience of the building shared their stories about 66 Portland Place, such as sitting their final exams in the Florence Hall. My hope is now that more people have made their maiden visits, that they will return and take advantage of all the events and facilities that this place offers.
Next tour: Last Tuesdays
There is a free building tour tonight at 7pm, part of the monthly Last Tuesday event when 66 Portland Place and its Library, bookshop and restaurant are open late, along with a series of special evening talks, free films and exhibitions. Today, once again, I’ll have the pleasure of showing more people around this fascinating building and the work done here at the RIBA.