The Open House concept was founded in London in 1992 with the aim of fostering a better understanding of architecture outside the profession. The core of this idea lay in the direct experience of the buildings themselves, accessible for free to all, with opportunities to learn, discuss and debate with experts and citizens alike.
From the new millennium this unique format of public engagement with the city’s inhabitants resonated with cities across the globe and this organic growth of the Open House city led to the creation of the Open House Worldwide Family in 2010. The Open House ‘family’, whilst being totally independent of each other, are all committed to the same values started back in 1992 and reach across five continents with over a million people participating worldwide.
The rise of Open House is indicative of an international shift in public awareness of the way cities determine how we live, as well as a growing desire for greater stake in the creation of their city. In an era of rapid urbanization and gentrification, with questions of sustainable design, public space, and housing being the most prominent, Open House offers a more inclusive and open-ended way to engage and acknowledge public voices.
The core of the concept is simple, but powerful, and can be understood through:
Experience > Dialogue > Empowerment > Advocacy
Experience: Facilitating opportunities for a city’s inhabitants to experience architecture to demonstrate that well-designed cities can improve people’s lives. Offering the opportunity to experience high quality design across ages, styles, and typology, enables understanding of the value good design in its broadest sense. Initiating direct experience of the city, rather than mediated experience, is critical. Offering free entry to all events enables as wide an audience as possible to participate regardless of age, gender, socio-economic level, level of education, or architectural expertise.
Dialogue: These direct experiences generate potential for people to engage in dialogue about the value of architecture and share their knowledge. Creating an accessible and independent platform bridges the gap between experts and users. It gives permission for everyone (including government, private organisations, professional institutions, and the public) to exchange views, comment and engage in the discussion, a true dialogue.
Empowerment: Offering experiences and encouraging dialogue about architecture and urban design creates awareness that the public has a stake in the design, development and care of its city. The city is a ‘shared’ space that is co-created and the city’s inhabitants have the power to change the city development.
Advocacy: Fostering understanding about the value of a well-designed city and the role of its inhabitants in its creation encourages them to advocate for a well-designed built environment. This includes how architecture addresses environmental, social and economic sustainability, and how ‘people-centred’ design can optimise the health and wellbeing of building occupants.