More than half of us live in cities. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, according to the United Nations. For most people, the city is our home, but much of it is not accessible. The most emblematic buildings are often closed to the public.

However, once a year in cities around the world, many of these buildings open their doors for forty-eight hours. Open House is a two-day event, when a city’s most important places are open for free public tours. It is a great opportunity to explore urban architecture during one weekend.


Open House was founded  in London in 1992 by Victoria Thornton. She wanted to inspire people about the benefits of great design by giving free access to London’s best buildings. She said: “I knew about many incredible buildings, especially contemporary buildings, that existed in London that were part of a secret world which only architects really knew. So I wanted to let non-professionals see them too.”

The event was a success. Since then, it has grown every year. In 2019, over eight hundred buildings, places and spaces were visited by around three hundred thousand people. The most popular places include the Old Bailey, the Shard and Number 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister.


Open House has spread worldwide, from Chicago to Melbourne. New York was the second city after London. The first Open House New York Weekend was held in 2003. Places such as photographer Alice Austen’s house in Staten Island, the campus of Bronx Community College and the Woolworth Building in Manhattan’s Financial District have now become Open House favourites.

The most recent cities to join were Brno in the Czech Republic, Tallinn in Estonia, Valencia (Spain) and Naples. The Open House Worldwide Family today includes forty-six cities on all continents, attracting a million visitors every year.


As our cities keep growing, more people want to learn about their environment. After all, the places in which we live affect our quality of life. “Architecture is around all of us and is part of our society’s well-being,” says Victoria Thornton. Thanks to Open House, city  dwellers can learn about their home and discover how urban design can transform their lives. Perhaps more importantly, by opening a dialogue with professionals, it gives them a voice.