The irony of Open House
This year Open House London celebrates its 20th anniversary with a fuller and more diverse programme than ever before. Although it is not until 22-23 September, the ballot (an innovation) has already closed for the most popular sites. There are emphases on landscape and engineering, and there are tours, as well as the usual opportunities both to access grand buildings that are normally inaccessible and to nose around in your neighbour’s rear extension.
The irony is that this festival of openness, that is predicated on openness, happens when much of our capital is more closed than ever before. Edwin Heathcote touches on this in the introduction to the brochure when he writes, ‘Not every change in London has been for the better. Argument still rage about the privatisation of public space…’ The arguments about public space received a closer focus in the run up to the Olympics. Before the nation was subsumed into a great love-in and celebration of wins, the heavy-handed security pointed up how little of ‘our’ space was really ‘ours’ and how restricted we can be.
But this kind of privatisation, revealed in Anna Minton’s excellent Ground Control and emphasised by the photographer Grant Smith in his battle to take photos where he wishes, is not the only thing excluding us from London. Money is doing it as well, as parts of the city become so expensive that even the ‘normal rich’ can’t afford to live there. The idea of ‘trickle down’ wealth has long been discounted, but there is a sort of trickle-out effect in London where the hyper rich push out the merely rich, the rich push out the comfortable, and London becomes an onion of different layers of wealth, with many simply unable to afford to live in the capital. It would be a bit much though, to expect Open House to solve all those problems. Happy birthday!