Open House Festival is an opportunity to discover architectural and housing gems in Tower Hamlets that are normally hidden from view, from residential grand designs to social housing and ancient churches.
Open House has selected 41 locations to visit within Tower Hamlets this year. These are our highlights of the events running from Wednesday 6 – Sunday 17 September and some information on our borough.
Around eight million people have attended the Open House Festival since it was launched in 1992, making it the world’s largest celebration of special buildings and neighbourhoods.
The fortnight-long programme of tours and events showcases our area’s most spectacular housing, architecture and landscapes. From historic churches and walking tours to community-based buildings, find yourself intimately exploring our borough in all of its architectural wonder.
Perhaps you’ve peered into these buildings and wondered what was on the inside, or maybe you’ve always been curious about certain historical spots. Either way, this is the perfect opportunity to get a sneak peek.
Tower Hamlets Town Hall
BEST FOR: FAMILY DAY OUT
160 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ
The new headquarters for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council is situated within the former Royal London Hospital building. The building has piqued the interest of architects and the general public due to its modern restorations and extensions. Open House is offering drop-ins or if you’re more hands-on, there is a family architecture activity session running on Saturday 16 September.
St. Margaret’s House
BEST FOR: A COFFEE AND A CHIT-CHAT
21 Old Ford Road, E2 9PL
St Margaret’s House offers events and opportunities all year round, working with Tower Hamlets Council to provide a Creative Health Zone in East London. Its story stretching back to 1888 is admirable. Initially called the Bethnal Green Ladies Committee, St. Margaret’s House progressed to helping nearby parishes in Sunday School and training medical and social workers. Now owning a beautiful cafe, and charity shop and running well-being creative sessions, its aim is to create a space for all creatives in East London.
St Paul’s Bow Common
Corner of Burdett Road, St Paul’s Way, E3 4AR
BEST FOR: BRUTALIST DESIGN
Widely regarded as the most significant post-war church in Britain, this spot is definitely worth checking out. The original grand and lofty Victorian Gothic version of St. Paul’s was destroyed during the Blitz. The new brutalist design built in the 1950s expresses the radical ideas that were emerging from architectural discussions of the time. Before heading out there, you may enjoy these old photos of a wedding held in this church back in the 1970s.
BEST FOR: PEGGY ANGUS MURALS
Cordelia Street, Poplar, E14 6DZ
Lansbury Lawrence (formally Susan Lawrence and Elizabeth Lansbury) opened in the 1951 Festival of Britain as a showpiece of the Live Architecture exhibition in the Lansbury Estate. Walk through the school gates to explore this interesting mid-century design with original features. While you’re there, be sure to stroll down Aberfeldy Street and marvel at the colourful murals stretching over 26 buildings, making up London’s largest piece of facade painting.
London Buddhist Centre
BEST FOR: SPIRITUAL
51 Roman Road, Bethnal Green, E2 0HU
One of our favourite local landmarks, if you’ve never been to the London Buddhist Centre you can go and find out about how this derelict Victorian fire station became a hub of Buddhism in the West. Throughout the day on Sunday 10 September, there will be guided tours, a photography exhibition, and food in the courtyard – as well as short talks on Buddhism, Yoga, and even taster meditation sessions.
Tower Hamlets Cemetry Park
BEST FOR: HERITAGE AND NATURE
Southern Grove, Mile End, E3 4PX
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is a magical pocket of East London. Its 31 acres of mature broadleaved woodland and meadow are perfect for escaping the drones and moans of city life. Burials ceased in 1966, and the park now serves as an educational resource to 7000+ school children every year who use the space as an outdoor classroom. It is open year-round, but if you go on Friday 15 September you can join a guided heritage tour of the park.
BEST FOR: ART AND CREATIVES
121 Roman Road, E2 0QN
Four Corners Film Workshop opened in 2007 with an aim to create a unique facility supporting the artists, photographers and filmmakers of East London. Inheriting a dilapidated building, architects came up with a design to match their vision, creating a central courtyard ‘hub’ allowing light and air to filter through the building. An Exhibition on the coup that took place in Chile in 1973 will also be on display during Open House. The display is free of charge and not to be missed.
Holy Trinity Church in Bow
BEST FOR: CHURCH RESTORATION
Morgan Street, Bow, E3 5AA
Holy Trinity Bow is a Grade C listed church built between 1834 and 1841, with a turbulent architectural history. After decades of closure, falling into disrepair and undergoing extensive restoration work, the church was reopened in 2019 and renamed The Heritage & Arts Centre Bow. The centre is used for fashion shoots, birthday parties, art exhibitions, and everything in between. With outstanding restoration work still to be completed, come along for a glimpse at the evolution of this vibrant community space.
Queen Mary University
BEST FOR: THE NOVO CEMETERY
327 Mile End Rd, Bethnal Green, E1 4NS
Join the guided tour of the institution founded during the late 18th century. The University has evolved around its social history housing one of only two surviving Sephardic Jewish cemeteries in England. Surrounded by busy campus life, the guided tour will explore the architecture of ‘The People’s Palace’ now known as the Queen’s Building and the Mile End Hospital.
Walking tour – Radical women of Bow and Bethnal Green
BEST FOR: LOCAL STREETS
Bow Church, Bow Road.
Starting from Bow Church, the tour will cover over one hundred years of advancements women made in the East End. The walk encompasses the Matchgirls Strike of 1888, the Bengali Housing Group Association via the East End Federation of Suffragettes, and other notable events during this key part of the 19th and 20th centuries. The walking tour is on the 17 September led by Golden Key Academy guides.
The Common Room
BEST FOR: COMMUNITY ARCHITECTURE
The Common Room, 5 Ford Road, E3 5NS
The Common House is a crowdfunded project to renovate a pre-existing structure for the community to use all year round. The space now hosts design workshops and stalls, hiring volunteers to get the local community involved. Architect, Torange Khonsari, and The Roman Road Trust worked together using a grassroots approach and involving students and the community.
Ikigai_12 Hickin Street
BEST FOR: RESIDENTIAL
12 Hickin Street, E14 3LW
This typical end-terrace residential property is not so typical when you step through the front door. The home exhibits Indian elements as well as minimalism and an undeniable flowing space. There is seamless use of the elements such as its indoor water feature, concrete walls, and tons of natural light. The name of the home ‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese concept of the reasons for being and the passion for which one lives a happy life. This property is a great chance for interior design lovers to see what makes this home full of tranquillity.
Limehouse Town Hall
BEST FOR: RICH HISTORY AND ARTS
646 Commercial Road, E14 7HA
Nestles in East London, Limehouse Town Hall, a Victorian marvel established in 1879 reflects Limehouse’s maritime and industrial heritage. Today, the hall invites those interested in its history and architecture to look into its intricate features and the stories they hold. On 10 September, they are holding a Drop in Art & Craft Market from midday to 6 p.m.
BEST FOR: UK’S TOP ARTISTS
Space Studios is taking part in the Open House Festival this year from 9 – 23 September. Housing some of the UK’s top artists Bridget Riley and Britannia Works are located opposite each other in former factory buildings. Founded in the 1960s, Space has helped generations of artists to develop their art and provide more studio space for creatives in East London. Running exhibitions alongside the festival, it is a great way to get an intimate sneak peek of behind the scenes.
As we anticipate the start of the Open House Festival 2023, we look forward to immersing ourselves in the world of architecture and design, guided by the expertise and guidance of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like our piece on The best things to do this summer in Tower Hamlets.
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