The streets of London are lined with architectural gems: futuristic towers, quirky homes, historic façades. But behind their doors is an inner beauty that few get to see except for one weekend a year. On Sept. 20 and 21, London holds its annual Open House, when hundreds of the city's most exciting buildings many usually closed to the public invite you to step inside (www.openhouse.org.uk). Here are four places worth a peek.
Built to hold new offices for members of Parliament at a cost of $440 million, Portcullis House was the most expensive office block in Britain when it was finished in 2000. Imposing and elegant, it surrounds an airy courtyard, and seamlessly incorporates the ultramodern Westminster Underground station below.
THE FOREIGN OFFICE
This Victorian government building in Whitehall is a picture of neoclassical grandeur and extravagance. The highlights include the Grand Staircase with its marble columns and lavish murals, and the magnificent Durbar Court: three generous stories of granite arches and intricate friezes, capped by a glass roof.
Completed in 2002, the seat of London government is one of the more striking structures along the Thames. Designed by Foster and Partners, it resembles a giant steel-and-glass egg tilting in the wind. Inside, the spiral staircase at its core seems to float in midair, and the meeting chamber offers breathtaking IMAX-like views of the river. On the roof, solar panels provide power and the building's green credentials.
CROSSNESS ENGINES HOUSE
Designed by Joseph Bazalgette, 19th century creator of the London sewage system, the Crossness Engines House waste-water pumping station is a feat of Victorian engineering. Inside is a rare marriage of brute power and beauty: four of the world's largest rotative beam engines, surrounded by ornate cast-iron work that has been carefully restored to stunning effect.
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