Winning hearts and minds through architecture and design — we explore the evolving story of Open House Melbourne with the initiative’s Executive Director Emma Telfer.
July 5th, 2017
Open House Melbourne, 2017, Emma Telfer, Design Tour, Melbourne Design, History, Infrastructure, Materiality.
It’s rare to get people excited by city infrastructure. For most of us, major public projects are about the material benefits — ‘will my train run on time?’, ‘will I have access to better healthcare?’, ‘can my kids go to school nearby?’.
Open House Melbourne (OHM) — celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2017 — is one initiative that manages to break through those barriers of self-interest to generate genuine engagement in our city, in how it functions, and in how good design can benefit its future.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to attend the July weekend over the last 10 years knows there’s something very special about OHM. Putting aside the voyeurism of peering behind Melbourne’s locked doors and into its little known spaces, the weekend has actually become an opportunity to understand how the city’s many remarkable buildings are designed, how they work, and what they’re like to inhabit. Tours of buildings and spaces are led by volunteers; from workers and owners, to the architects and the custodians of our built environment.
There is nothing more engaging than being led on a tour by the architect of a building. Their passion, their knowledge, and their excitement for sharing their work is, by far the most magical part of Open House as a concept. Open House Melbourne continues to be a fantastic opportunity for the architecture and design sector to engage directly with the public — and potential clients — to demonstrate why design is so important. There are a number of stories of OHM visitors touring homes, connecting with the architect, then commissioning those architects to design their own homes.
This year, OHM is working to spark more of these opportunities, partnering with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria (ARBV) in association with ArchiTeam on ‘The Naked Architect’ — a guide to commissioning and working with a residential architect. This program informs people about the process of commissioning architecture, helping to highlight its value when considering a new build or renovation. There are countless other opportunities for architects and designers to be involved, from studio tours, to public talks, and special events throughout the year.
In 2017, Open House Melbourne is taking time to reflect, and plan for a bigger future. Newly appointed Executive Director, Emma Telfer, began working on OHM in 2011 and has been instrumental in evolving the initiative from a weekend event with just a handful of buildings, to a year-round program, including over 200 buildings and events.
“I think this year is a major moment for us to look back on the immense growth of the organisation over the last decade, which is not a long time for an organisation such as this,” Telfer explains. “In that time, we’ve gone from a purely volunteer-run organisation, with a small operating budget, to one that now has a team of four; resourcing across the year-round program, and multiple major program partnerships.”
Reflecting on the key moments for the program, Telfer notes 2012 as a significant milestone. “We had a really fantastic year in 2012 when we received both the hotly contested Melbourne Award for Contribution to Profile by a Community Organisation, and were awarded a Special Award for Architecture in the Media by the Australian Institute of Architects.” Both awards were significant in their own right; being recognised by the design industry for its work in design communication was a stamp of approval for Open House, while winning the Melbourne Award recognised its contribution to the city and the wider community.
Looking forward, Telfer and her team are focussed on OHM’s role as a catalyst for building better cities through public engagement. “The future looks bright for the organisation, with many great opportunities and big ideas in terms of broadening the reach of Open House Melbourne.”
‘Reach’ has always been a guiding principle for OHM. The event engages the general public in conversations around the city, its design, and its future. As it looks forward to its own future, OHM will continue to grow the year-round program with the ultimate goal to develop a ‘parent’ organisation. “It’s no secret that we look to sister organisations for our trajectory, so Open City in London, who run Open House London, is a key point of inspiration,” Telfer says.
Open House London is 25 years old, and about 11 years ago they realised the need to launch a new structure to better position their different programming streams. They launched Open City, which helped them to talk more broadly about the city, rather than being focussed purely on architecture, so they were able to look at all of the elements that impact the city’s built environment.
“We are looking to follow a similar path,” Telfer says, “and to launch a parent organisation and brand in the near future. We’re also taking cues from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which is much older, having been around since the ‘60s, and has some clever initiatives that take design to a much broader audience.
“I would like OHM to be spoken about in a similar vein to Open City London and the Chicago Architecture Foundation in the future. We have an opportunity to really position Melbourne as the centre for these conversations in Australia.” This year also signals the hunt for a new permanent home for Open House Melbourne, something crucial to embedding it within the city and providing a constant presence.
Open House Melbourne is just 10 years old, but has already achieved the status of a world-class organisation, respected locally and internationally as a thought-leader. While many other events and festivals on the calendar are focussed on cultural and creative activities, OHM remains one of Australia’s few year-round programs to directly address city-building, design, and the importance of our built heritage — and certainly the largest in terms of scale and engagement. The next 10 years will undoubtedly demonstrate that Open House Melbourne is not only a premier event on the architecture and design calendar, but an integral part of building better, more-liveable Australian cities.
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