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This fall marks the 20th anniversary of Open House London—an annual weekend-long program that provides special access to hundreds of places and spaces throughout the city that are not normally open to the public. It also celebrates the occasion of similar events in top destinations worldwide, such as New York, Chicago, Dublin, Jerusalem, Barcelona and Lisbon. Next spring and summer promise Open House programs in Tel Aviv, Rome and Melbourne.

The programs' concept, the brainchild of Victoria Thornton, a London-based architecture writer and devotee, is highly appealing to visitors. As she explains in the introduction of the newly published book Open House London: An Exclusive Insight into 100 Architecturally Inspiring Buildings in London, the heart of it is “simple but incredibly powerful… showcasing outstanding architecture for all to experience, completely for free.”

A hundred people visited 20 places during the first Open House program in London. Last year there were 250,000 participants who had access to more than 700 buildings, walks, talks and tours. The 2012 program (which took place September 22 and 23) highlighted more than 750 buildings and a bevy of special events. Its 2013 installment (September 21 and 22) will feature just as much.

“The aim has always been to open eyes and minds to unfamiliar and sometimes challenging design by offering an opportunity to experience it first hand,” Thornton says.

Open House New York (OHNY) will take place for the tenth time October 6 and 7, offering activities throughout the city’s five boroughs. Architect Scott Lauer—who had participated in the London program—founded OHNY in the wake of 9/11, a time when building owners were reluctant to open their premises to the public. “I am proud that year after year OHNY sends thousands of people to every corner of the city and inspires them to explore New York City and engage with their neighbors,” says Lauer, now vice president of programs at the American Architecture Foundation.

The Open House network continues to flourish; new cities offering programs for the first time in 2013 include Budapest, Vienna and Athens. “It’s a curated view of what’s interesting, quirky, at the beating heart of the city,” says Ellen P. Ryan, interim executive director of OHNY.

Experience it for yourself.

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