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Open House Melbourne, Opening Minds

This year’s Open House Melbourne was a continuation and evolution of a program that is yet to truly receive the recognition it deserves.

When navigating Melbourne’s wintry streets and icy wind tunnels, you’re naturally compelled to get inside as quickly as is humanly possible. It’s no accident then that the hashtag for the Open House Melbourne in 2016 became #GetInsideMelbourne.

With the transformation towards a year-round program almost complete – Open House Melbourne (OHM) actually began in May – but the weekend that defines the organisation was again a wonder to behold. While many of the buildings on the OHM list are open to the public throughout the year, they have a unique buzz about them on the weekend itself. Taking the opportunity to visit buildings such as the Shrine of Remembrance leaves you once again in awe of the beauty of Melbourne’s buildings and the ingenuity of it’s past architects and builders, and those bringing these grand structures into the 21st Century (ARM Architecture, in the case of The Shrine).

It’s this buzz and sense of ‘access’ that brings the crowds out in droves. Of course, there are many, many other buildings that are only accessible during OHM – including private homes – such as 5×4 Hayes Lane and the Flinders Lane Apartment which were both standouts – and commercial buildings such as Medibank and NAB giving an insight into the beating heart of Melbourne’s business world.

The painful reality of OHM is that there are over 140 buildings, and it is literally impossible to see them all. In fact, you’re lucky if you can see more than 10 across the weekend. So why have so many? Because the city becomes truly open. The number of buildings isn’t about ‘catching them all’ (although Pokémon Go does reveal a tantalising technological possibility for OHM); it’s about inviting citizens to explore their city, to get out of their wintertime hidey-holes and pound the pavement in search of hidden treasures.

The wonderful thing about having so many tours is also the human interaction. Every tour guide becomes storyteller, providing unique insights into the fabric of the city. You need only have observed the looks on the faces of those touring the unbelievable ‘Acute House’ – by OOF! Architecture – to understand the power of OHM to educate and amaze the public. While tours of historic buildings such as the Limelight Studios help provide context to Melbourne’s shining new towers and thoroughly modernising streetscapes.

The speaker series and in particular the Occupied exhibition and talks showed a significant public interaction, not just with buildings but also with the deeper issues of housing and population. It’s a comforting realisation to attend these events and see ordinary citizens engaging with complex ideas.

In this writer’s opinion, Open House Melbourne is yet to receive the recognition it deserves. The program is performing an invaluable community service to the people of Melbourne, and the year-round conversations are highlighting important issues and engaging the public. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017, the program will undoubtedly continue to surprise, inform and engage Melburnians and visitors alike.

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