On Saturday, October 13, AAP NYC opened its doors to the world as part of Open House New York (OHNY) Weekend. The weekend coordinates free access to hundreds of architecturally and culturally significant sites around New York City that are usually closed to the public. The event is an opportunity to marvel at prime examples of New York architecture as well as to increase civic engagement in conversations about the built environment and the future of urban life.
Open House began in 1992 in London as a way to bring people outside the field of architecture and into conversations about the present and future of the built environment. The idea was that by opening access to locations that are clear examples of the incredible potential of architecture and urban design, as well as the studios where this work to form the city continues to happen, the event would spark public interest and lead to increased civic engagement year-round. New York City became the second city to host an Open House Weekend in the early 2000’s. Since then the concept has spread to forty cities worldwide.
Walking through the lobby of 26 Broadway I saw visitors marveling at the high ceilings, vintage metal work, and other left-over adornments from this building’s luxurious past. Upstairs, prospective students, intrigued city residents, and alumni now implementing these ideas in practice inter-mingled among models, diagrams, and floor-length visions of approaches to today’s major urban problems.
Beyond OHNY Weekend, Open House New York has been putting additional effort into organizing year-round programming to direct attention towards more specific aspects of urban change. These include Projects in Planning, presentations investigating the details of major new projects still in early development; Making Place, highlighting sites of architectural and cultural significance in neighborhoods facing major changes; and the Urban Systems Series, a year-long series focusing in-depth on an important issue in New York City’s built environment. These programs draw more specific links between form and impact, for example this year’s Urban Systems Series an investigation of the architecture and infrastructure of New York City’s criminal justice system.
Open House New York, the non-profit that organizes and operates Open House New York Weekend, was founded in 2001. Following 9/11, the organization was a major advocate for maintaining transparency and access in a landscape full of new barriers justified by increased security measures. OHNY has worked to establish a vision of architectural conversations based in trust of the public to appreciate and learn from these opportunities, insisting that openness is vital to an informed and engaged civic life. The need to break down barriers and expand conversations to include those who are experts in city life from living it is as important today as ever.