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Open House Dublin 2023: More than 150 buildings star in this year’s festival. Here are our favourites

The annual architecture celebration offers free peeks inside everything from follies to football stadiums

Open House Dublin, the annual through-the-keyhole festival of architectural exploration, opens doors across the city when it begins next weekend, with free peeks inside all sorts of buildings, from private houses to state apartments, and from follies to football stadiums. There are also walking tours, debates and discussions aplenty, but as many events require booking, don’t wait to secure your spots. With more than 150 guided tours, visits and events over nine days, here are a few to get you started.

Kilmainham Mill

Friday, October 13th, to Sunday, October 15th

Dating back to 1800, Kilmainham Mill is said to be the only (mostly) unaltered early-19th-century flour mill in Dublin. It finally closed in 2000. Following assiduous campaigning by locals, it was saved from that frequent fate of demolition and development, and purchased by Dublin City Council in 2018. The site itself goes back even further, probably to the 1500s: in its time it went from milling flour and corn to finishing fabrics. It is now under restoration. The words “cultural hub” are being used for its future, which is pretty broad, but, taken in context of the nearby Kilmainham Gaol, Memorial Gardens and Irish Museum of Modern Art, it could be a hugely exciting (ahem) development for this part of Dublin. There is limited access, and no facilities, but given that the mill has never been open to the public, it is a rare glimpse indeed.

Clerys Quarter

Friday, October 13th, and Saturday, October 14th

The word “quarter” can cause an unpleasant shiver when added to plans for an area, implying the triumph of marketing over design. But don’t rush to judge. After all, the world’s great cities have their quarters: from Gothic to Latin, Museum to Medieval. Some cities have many more than four, and that’s before you even get started on districts. All that aside, the refurbishment of the Clerys department-store building and its environs, if it goes well, could do a great deal for O’Connell Street, once Dublin’s most noble thoroughfare. The original Clerys building dates to 1922, so it’s as old as the State. Henry J Lyons Architects have a lot on their shoulders. Discover what’s in store with a tour of the works in progress.


Saturday, October 14th, and Sunday, October 15th

Since the first Open House Dublin, in 2005, some spots have become firm favourites, and despite thousands of people travelling past or even through it every day, the chance to explore the high spots of, and get the real lowdown on, Áras Mhic Dhiarmada, aka Busáras, is always eagerly awaited. Still controversial to some, this modernist marvel is now a bit of an icon. Its stellar design team included Michael Scott, Robin Walker, Kevin Roche and Pat Scott (who did the mosaics). Once upon a time there was a theatre in the basement, and the top floor was meant to be a nightclub when the sun went down.


Central Plaza

Friday, October 13th, and Saturday, October 14th

When Sam Stephenson’s former Central Bank of Ireland building was under construction, on Dame Street, someone noticed they were building it too tall. The planners of the day meant business, and 30ft, or about 10m, was lopped off the top, at a cost of £1.3 million, as reported by RTÉ news in 1974. It was ultimately completed in 1978. A little like Busáras, but without the panache, it has too been loved and hated. Times and uses change. Although there was briefly great excitement that, against all the wisdom of bleak cynicism, it might be turned over in its entirety to become an extraordinarily visionary centre for the arts, Central Plaza is now billed by its owners, Hines and Peterson Group, as “a dramatic new meeting point” and “a new destination for modern workforces”. See what Henry J Lyons Architects are doing with the brief, and what they are making of the unapologetically 1970s canvas in what is Ireland’s only (ta-da) “suspended structure building”.

St Audoen’s

Saturday, October 14th, and Sunday, October 15th

The last remaining medieval parish church in Dublin, St Audoen’s was built by the first generation of Normans to occupy the nascent city, back when you could still see the Dubh Linn and when the wattle-hurdle ford was quite probably still in use. At one time the wealthiest parish church in the city, it is dedicated to the patron saint of Normandy, who was said to be good at ending droughts. The Open House tour explores its rise, fall and ultimate gentle settling. Expect layers of fascinating stories, and possibly the odd ghost or two.

St Enda’s Park follies

Saturday, October 14th, and Sunday, October 15th

Back in the day, the rich were so absurdly, disproportionately wealthy that they took to building pointless edifices in surprising spots. (Maybe things haven’t changed so much after all.) In fairness, the 18th- and 19th-century follies at St Enda’s Park are charming, quirky, intriguing and also good fun. Many are modelled on the ruins of ancient Irish buildings and monuments, which makes a guided walking tour even more interesting, as there’s always something new to discover in the old.

Dublin Port

Saturday, October 14th, and Sunday, October 15th

With site-specific theatre shows, arts events, exhibitions, commissions and more, Dublin Port has been opening up for some time, which is a good thing, as for a long time you could be forgiven for feeling it was something like a secret city in the heart of town. This outdoor walking tour will let you see what Darmody Architects have been working on as they restore, refurbish and innovate.

Criminal Courts of Justice

Saturday, October 14th

Completed in 2010, the Criminal Courts of Justice, by Peter McGovern and Henry J Lyons, is one of those buildings you might normally hope never to have to enter. That could have made it a surprise People’s Choice award winner at the Irish Architecture Awards, but wise design can make even the most traumatic or stressful times in our lives go a little more smoothly, so expect a fascinating visit.

At home With Open House

Saturday, October 14th

Domestic tours at Open House are a bit like the interiors pages come to life, as whether you’re planning a project or just like to see what other people are up to, you’re never going to get a better chance, short of making friends with the owners and dangling for an invite to tea. Scullion Architects lead you through their Apple Tree House project, which adds a strong dose of cool contemporary space to a typical Ranelagh redbrick. Or see what DUA – Design Urbanism Architecture – made of a narrow inner-city site at the Pleasants Street House, where they’ve managed to get three bedrooms into a tight triangular footprint.

National Gallery of Ireland

Sunday, October 15th

Open House events have grown in sophistication, challenging our view of what “looking” looks like. At the National Gallery of Ireland, a sensory-architecture tour offers you the opportunity to explore the gallery’s indoor and outdoor spaces – but blindfolded. The 40-minute visit invites you discover other senses, and investigate texture, materials, space and sound. This is also an excellent session for visually impaired visitors (assistance dogs are welcome), and is wheelchair accessible too.

Open House Junior

Various dates

Open House Junior is designed to enthuse budding architects, designers, historians, engineers and more. In fact there’s something for everyone. Events range from creative family workshops at the Think Big Space to augmented reality at Fernhill Park, and from medieval tile making at Christ Church to a chance to see inside the obelisk on Killiney Hill. The Reimagining Our Dream Neighbourhood family workshop at the National Museum of Ireland’s Collins Barracks branch on October 7th aims to get five- to 12-year-olds solving the cities issues. Who’s to say they won’t do a better job? Also check out downloadable Architrek walking tours with activities and maps for spots including Stoneybatter, Marino, Tallaght, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin 8.

On film and on your own

If you prefer to explore architecture from the comfort of your home, Open House has you covered. The Site Specific series are mini documentaries exploring sites such as the Iveagh Markets, Le Fanu Playpark, Pigeon House Power Station, Cork Street Fever Hospital, the Chapel Royal and Trinity College Dublin’s Loos Bar. Explore the other side of film in person at the Light House Cinema, designed by Colin Mackay. Includes a tour of the projection booth with projectionist Rob O’Brien. October 13th-15th. The Light House hosts a NewNowNext series discussion, Cities Have Feelings, on October 14th, aiming to get up close and personal with the way emotional and social connections can be made and sustained with cities. Just what Dublin is crying out for.

The Irish Architecture Foundation’s Open House Dublin runs from Saturday, October 7th, to Sunday, October 15th; has information about 49 more Open House festivals, from Athens to Zurich