Imagine an architectural safari around the city that opens up the doors to museums, historic hotels and buildings, creative agencies, Byzantine churches, monuments but also private homes for residents and visitors alike. That’s what Open House Thessaloniki is, a celebration of architecture and design when volunteers transform the city into an open museum for two days every year. A simple yet powerful idea that started in London in 1992 and has conquered the world.
Now in its 6th 7th edition, Open House Thessaloniki is taking place on 25th & 26th November 2017 24th & 25th November 2018 and you ‘d better not miss it: with 100 participating buildings, 500 volunteers and various activities such as thematic walking tours, this is a real celebration of the city.
I have been lucky to experience this event in Thessaloniki a couple of times and made me fall in love with the city all over again. In fact, a few years ago we visited Uber Kreative , an architecture & design office who showcased to the visitors their innovative, custom design laser engraved skateboard decks and we got inspired for a very special wedding present!
If I could, I would teletransport myself to Thessaloniki every year during the Open House event. Yes, I would.
Here is what I wrote in my journal after attending the 2nd Open House Thessaloniki, in October 2013.
So what’s it like?
“The city from the inside” read the map, an invitation to an unusual “treasure hunt” of architectural interest in Thessaloniki. The main goal was for the participants to get to know and appreciate the city’s architecture through guided tours. People of all ages showed up for the call: moms with young children, groups of students, couples in their mid-40’s, pensioners, locals, schools from Thessaloniki and surrounding areas, but also visitors from around the world participated as the tours were also available in English. And all of this, entirely for free!
Beetroot creative agency & detached house
With a glorious sunshine and summer-like temperatures, I began putting together eagerly my own “mosaic of architectural experiences.” Starting out from the east side, the wealthy area of Kalamaria, I took a sneak peek into the creative space of Beetroot team, an award-winning design group which constantly redefines creativity. A few blocks away, I admired a gorgeous detached house with an outdoor swimming pool and a church organ in the lounge (our guide informed us that its owner lends this church organ to Thessaloniki Concert Hall whenever they are in need!) with an unhindered view over Thermaikos Gulf. Such bliss. The owners are architects themselves and have converted the basement of their house to their office: an entirely open space, with creativity flowing around.
Casa Bianca & Villa Mordoch
Feeling inspired, I continue to my next stop. Along Vasilissis Olgas street, in the region known as «Eksohes» (which translates into the countryside, as this neighborhood was once on the outskirts), I stepped into the impressive building of “Casa Bianca” which today houses the Municipal Gallery. Built between 1911 and 1913 on plans and designs drawn by the Italian architect Pietro Arrigoni, it’s terribly elegant with its eclectic style and art nouveau form. While at the basement, gazing at the impressive photos documenting the operations of its recovery, I learn all about the troubled history of the owners and the building itself.
A bit further away stands villa Mordoch, a listed building designed by the architect Xenophon Paionidis in the eclectic style in 1905, which was initially built for Turkish divisional commander Seifoulah Pasha. Later, in 1930 it became the property of Mordoch family while today it belongs to the municipality. I couldn’t stop but zooming in the ornate painted decorations of the inside while trying, at the same time, to ignore the oh-so-inappropriate esthetic alterations of the administrative services which are nowadays housed in this building, definitely a mismatched selection of function for this architectural jewel.
Olympion cinema theater, Hotel Minerva Premier & Saint John catacomb
Catching the bus to head towards the town center, I eavesdropped on others “Open House followers”, sharing tips about where they had been so far and where they were now heading to. All holding the same “passport” in their hands, the characteristic Open House map filled with essential info and personal notes. My next destination was already determined: a private apartment at Nikis Avenue, the grand dame of the city’s seafront. To my great dismay, when I arrived outside the apartment, there was already a huge queue, which was constantly building up. I should have imagined that I was not the only one dreaming of waking up overlooking Thermaikos Gulf or watching the splendid sunset from my very own balcony.
Reluctantly, I decided to change plans and move on to a favorite spot for cinephiles: “Olympion” cinema theater remains one of the classical places to watch a good movie and is an integral part of the International Film Festival held in Thessaloniki every year. An architecturally impressive structural complex built in the ‘20s at Aristotelous Square, enjoying an unrivalled view. Our guide showed us around the two renovated cinema halls, Olympion and Pavlos Zannas, allowed us a sneak peek into the projection room and recounted that initially there was a moveable roof on one of the cinema halls transforming it to an open-air cinema when weather allowed. Now, that is something I would definitely love to experience. As a consolation, today you can enjoy a glass of wine sitting by the window at “Room With a View” café, taking in the explosive colors of the sunset.
At all times, the numerous participating volunteers, the heart of this project, were ready to help and guide you, wearing seamlessly the unmistaken, sincere smile and enthusiasm of those who do something simply because they want to and not because they are obliged to.
Determined to get the most out of this unusual city safari, I kept walking until Egnatia street where “Hotel Minerva Premier” is situated. This is a spot I had passed by a thousand times before without shedding a second look, totally ignoring its interesting history, charming architecture as well as the fact that here was the foundation of a well-known Greek lingerie company called “Minerva”. The interior of the building is beautified by a collection of paintings by the internationally renowned painter and architect Efthimios Varlamis, ornate stucco and an impressive glass dome.
My exquisite day ended up inside the mystical catacomb of Saint John, just next to the impressive church of Aghia Sophia. Its hidden, lush garden was filled with “Open House insiders” and was the perfect spot to round it up. My newfound treasure comprised of a creative agency, a private detached house, two villas-listed buildings, a cinema theater, a hotel and a catacomb. I felt exhausted yet rejuvenated from all the new perspective gained, wishing I could explore even more buildings.
The concept of Open House, one of the major international architectural institutions, is simple but very dynamic: through free guided tours at both public and private spaces which demonstrate an architectural interest, each city’s architecture and its importance is showcased to the general public. It has proved to be so popular that currently, 38 cities around the world have their own Open House events, from New York and Tel Aviv to Barcelona and Chicago while new cities are being added continuously to the international family following the same basic principles.
Who brought Open House in Greece?
The founding members of the organizing committee were 5 architects: Renata Duma, Tatiana Anagnostara, Tonia Mavroudi, Yota Mouratidou and Katerina Doudoumis. “Most of us had experienced the event in London, where it all started; we thought it was interesting and it was about time to do something similar in Greece,” says Renata Duma, Communication Officer of the organization. That’s why they founded the non-profit organization Open House Greece, member of the international family “Open House Worldwide”, and organized for the first time in 2012 Open House Thessaloniki which received 12,000 visits in 57 buildings. One year later, Open House Thessaloniki 2013 opened the doors of 67 buildings to the public ( half of which were participating for the first time in the institution ) and the total visits increased to 22,000: a spectacular increase of 83 % in just one year. In 2016, Open House Thessaloniki hosted 37.000 visits in 83 buildings while many other activities took place such as thematic tours, bike tours, students’ visits and art performances.
Why is it important for the general public to understand the importance of architecture?
“Through guided visits to various buildings, you realize the value of quality architectural design and ultimately realize how your quality of life is affected by a well-designed space” explains Renata Duma.
Open House events are the perfect occasion to explore a city, either the one you are staying at or the one you are simply visiting for a few days, by focusing on its architecture and its interaction with everyday life.
Open House Thessaloniki – Upcoming Event: 24-25 November 2018
If you don’t have enough time to book your tickets for this year’s event, you might want to check out Open House Athens as well:
Curious to know which other cities have Open House events? Check it out here:
Have you already been to an Open House event around the world? Are you ready for your architectural safari in Thessaloniki? Trust me, you will be amazed!