Open House Dublin 2021

Image Credit: Marc O'Sullivan

Sinéad Keating discusses the largest annual architectural event in Ireland, Open House Dublin 2021

Open House 2021 is Dublin’s largest architectural event which is hosted by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) and celebrates the architecture and heritage on offer in the city. Now in its 16th year, the event will take place from the 15th-17th of October, with activities being held both in person and online. The event, modelled after Open House London, offers a unique opportunity for members of the public to see behind the doors of a vast range of buildings. An interactive virtual map which includes the participating buildings, is published on the Open House website.

Dublin, one of fifty cities in the world which host Open House events, saw 3,500 visitors at its inaugural event in 2005 and 20 participating buildings, expanding to 33,000 visitors and 120 buildings by 2019. The festival is not designed to be limited to those studying or practicing architecture. “The aim is to increase the profile of architecture in Ireland and to increase engagement of the public with the design and role of architecture in the city,” states Open House Director, Karen Lee Walpole. “Open House aims to engage people who wouldn’t have engaged with architecture before”. 

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, access to private homes, which usually proves to be the most popular element of the program, will not be going ahead this year. This element of the event gives people a chance to see behind the doors of the private homes and speak to the architects responsible. However, the architects have instead been invited to create virtual tours in the form of short films, which will be available on the Open House website from October 15th.

This year some popular public buildings remain closed for tours, such as the government buildings of Leinster House and the Department of Education. Instead, buildings which usually have restricted access, such as the American Embassy and the Belgian Ambassador’s residence are open for pre-booked tours. Other participating buildings include Provost’s House in Trinity, Central Bank, the Criminal Courts and Mansion House. For those interested in historical buildings, Casino at Marino and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this year’s oldest building in the programme, are also partaking.

The IAF reaches out to 200-250 architects annually, inviting them to participate and enquire about new buildings in order to ensure that the programme is varied. For regular Open House attendees and volunteers, the excitement each year comes from new additions to the program. The newest building on the list is RKD’s Dublin Landings, an office and apartment block in the Docklands. Dublin Landings offers a view over the city from contemporary interiors, which normally have restricted access. The Gravity Bar at Guinness, also by RKD, is a must see for some of the best views over the city. 

Covid-19 related restrictions have resulted in delays in construction, due to material shortages and closed building sites during lockdowns. Several buildings which were not ready in time for this year’s festival will instead be premiering next year. However, in spite of these setbacks, this year is predicted to attract high numbers, both in person and online. Despite the Covid-19 implications last year, Open House Dublin attracted 20,000 visitors online, who watched tours of buildings and films about the architectural developments.

The aim is to increase the profile of architecture in Ireland and to increase engagement of the public with the design and role of architecture in the city

While online activities had not been planned before the pandemic, the idea of including films had been discussed, albeit never brought into fruition. The lockdown pushed the organisers to commission films, which were the primary focus of last year’s event. The site-specific films, which have been seen over 500,000 times, replaced the in-person tours that could not go ahead. Of the eighteen site-specific films made last year, ten were commissioned by the IAF to DyeHouse films. Some of the topics include the conservation of the Four Courts dome, the Iveagh Markets and the old DIT catering building on Cathal Brugha Street.

Other short-clips include self-produced films by individual architects which focus on one domestic project, to replace the popular house tours. Among the architects contributing are Architectural Farm, Brennan Furling, Robert Bourke and Karen Brownlee. In addition to these architects and the Open House team, the event depends on a large number of volunteers who are then trained in tour guiding. 300-350 volunteers usually welcome members of the public to each location. In the sixteen-year history of Open House Dublin, no building had been damaged or had contents stolen during the festival, a testament to the goodwill of those who have taken part.

Housing in Ireland, and particularly in Dublin, is topical as house prices continue to soar amid shortages of student accommodation this year. The topic is sure to come up at one of the most important events in the programme, the debate ‘Living for the City’. The debate will be held in the Complex at Smithfield on Saturday 16th from 6-8pm and will be streamed online. The Director predicts that the debate will include discussions on the value of city living, and how it has changed during the pandemic, as well as questions regarding how to bring people back into the city, how people can afford to live in the city, but also be creative, and whether or not the city still considered liveable. 

Due to continuing Covid restrictions this year, there is an online booking system in place to manage numbers attending each building. Karen Lee Walpole predicts a return to the more casual pre-pandemic system, without pre-booking, in future years which facilitates more freedom of movement. All events are free to the public and require booking in advance. Bookings can be made online at the Open House website at