Open House London began in 1992 with the aim to “promote public awareness and appreciation for the capital’s building design and architecture [and to] open up London’s splendid buildings to the general public who don’t otherwise have access.” 12 years later, it kept me occupied while J kept tradition with his university friend by celebrating Oktoberfest in Germany. Over the two days, I was able to admire the sumptuous interior of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to survey the city from the top of the Leadenhall Building (affectionately known as “The Cheesegrater”), tour the studios of Siobhan Davies Dance, marvel at the once-hidden Masonic Temple in the Andaz Hotel and gain insight into the thoughtful design of the Ismaili Centre.

I highly recommend visiting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (previously the India Office) to admire the Durbar Court, which was “first used in 1867 for a reception for the Sultan of Turkey” and later utilized in 1902 for the coronation celebrations of King Edward VII. The queue moved fairly quickly, especially since I had already began to read the (free) detailed information hand out. The people who work in this lavish building with marble floors and pillars, beautifully painted walls with vibrant colors complemented with gold and vaulted ceilings are truly lucky.

I also highly recommend checking out the Masonic Temple housed within the Andaz Hotel. I was in line 20 minutes before the doors opened, and I felt like an excited child when I was led in with the second group. A certain delight arose from being allowed into the ex-meeting place of an extraordinarily secret society. I even had my picture taken in one of the thrones, apparently like Lady Gaga did for a photo shoot.  (Do not expect good photos if you are using a cell phone camera, like I did.)

As for the others, I would only recommend visiting Siobhan Davies Dance studio if you are interested in dance, but I think Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (particularly the third floor) is just as beautiful!  And the two and a half hour wait for the Leadenhall Building allowed me a great elevator ride and lovely city views for free, but I felt rushed around the perimeter by the Open House volunteers and we were not allowed to get close to the windows in some areas. Finally, the Ismaili Centre was beautiful and thoughtfully constructed, but my tour guide was a little long-winded for my taste (and other tour groups kept passing us). The highlight was sitting and listening to the burbling fountain of the rooftop garden as a delicate breeze wafted across the scents of flowers.

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