Columbus Day weekend launches the eagerly awaited annual Openhouse New York (OHNY) weekend when property owners open their doors to the public, and open the eyes of residents and visitors to New York’s extraordinarily rich architecture and culture. For Columbus and the five boroughs alike, it’s all about discovery.
This year, OHNY presents over 200 separate properties and programmed events that extend well into the night, including Times Square spectaculars, stargazing at historic Woodlawn Cemetery, and a guided tour of the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, designed by Ennead, where giant steel-clad digester eggs light up against the sky in the most magical display of sewage ever.
Some of New York’s newest, oldest, greenest, most beautiful, and most significant buildings are featured, many of them otherwise closed to the public. Visitors are welcomed back to perennial favorites like Central Synagogue, the Little Red Lighthouse tucked under the George Washington Bridge, and Jefferson Market where the hardy can climb 149 stairs to the top of the circular tower for 360-degree views of Greenwich Village. There are family events, nature walks, and open chat sessions with curators, design professionals, and others knowledgeable about featured properties. There are also behind-the-scenes tours of facilities like the newly renovated Museum of the City of New York, and also the Citibike warehouse in Greenpoint, which has no architectural distinction but has unstemmed cultural impact.
This year OHNY presents more residential properties than ever before, including 20 specially selected by Interior Design Magazine and Designers’ Open House to showcase the private homes of noteworthy contemporary architects and designers.
In its 11-year life, OHNY weekend has deliberately worked to address a full range of urban interests, whether experienced on screen, by foot, bike, or even canoe. A full list is available online and in printed form at key outlets throughout the city.
OHNY began when architect Scott Lauer returned to New York in the late 1990s, after having lived in England and been a volunteer for Open House London (established 1992). In 2001 he pitched the idea of launching a similar program to receptive organizations in New York and thus founded the second of what is now a family of 17 Open House cities worldwide.
Lauer conceived OHNY prior to September 11 but in its aftermath, when security was heightened and property owners were reluctant to welcome in the public, OHNY’s mission assumed even greater significance. By the time New York’s first Openhouse weekend took place in 2003, OHNY executive director Gregory Wessner explained, “People were beginning to realize that you can’t live in a closed security state forever. What was so wonderful about OHNY was that it helped the city to open itself up again. Since then, attitudes have relaxed, in part from seeing OHNY in action. I think that people all over the city now understand how valuable OHNY is and the values it represents. Openness and access are important aspects of our civic life.”
(to be continued; Part 1 of a 2 part series)