An Open Invitation

Cities around the world are boosting civic pride by inviting their citizens to peek inside cool spaces not usually accessible to the public. It’s time for us to open our doors too.
20090717 Sctwn Capitol Dome 55
Photo by Mark Thomas Kallweit
The State Capitol's second dome was open to the public from 1871 to 1942, but has been closed since World War II. A spiral staircase leads to the cupola at the very top.

The Idea
If we hadn’t seen it ourselves, we probably wouldn’t have believed it. In May, while visiting Minneapolis, we witnessed thousands of people excitedly lining up to explore… buildings. It was the inaugural Doors Open Minneapolis—a free weekend-long celebration of what architects call the “built environment.”

Organizer Scott Mayer had hoped for 10,000 attendees, but 17,841 turned up, visiting 112 venues. The top draws: The Federal Reserve, City Hall (where Mayor Jacob Frey personally led tours) and the headquarters of Target, where guests ventured to the top of the retail giant’s skyscraper for a behind-the-scenes look at the LED video wall that wraps the tower’s crown. People filled the streets, experiencing their hometown like curious tourists.

Doors Open Minneapolis featured a tour of Target’s headquarters.

Doors Open Minneapolis featured a tour of Target’s headquarters.

The event was part of a global trend that began in France in 1984. Today, dozens of cities—from London to Toronto to Denver, San Diego, Baltimore and now Minneapolis—hold their own annual versions, each showcasing 50-150 buildings.

Which structures would make our wish list for Doors Open Sacramento? They might include our own City Hall (with tour guide Mayor Steinberg), Golden 1 Center, our beautiful, historic downtown post office, the Blue Diamond almond factory and the hidden second dome of the State Capitol (pictured above).

The Players
In most cities, these events are organized by architecture-focused nonprofits, or in some cases (like in Toronto and Riverside), by the local government. Here, the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects would be one natural facilitator—it already hosts an annual Experience Architecture event that offers tours of a few structures around town. The Downtown Sacramento Partnership would also make for a key partner. (We here at Sactown would love to help out too.)

The Bottom Line
Nearly every Doors Open is free to attend and is staffed mostly by volunteers (over 700 in Minneapolis). The events also have real economic impacts, with attendees dining and shopping along the way. But perhaps the biggest benefit is engendering hometown pride and helping people see their city in a whole new way. So, should we follow this civic trend? It’s an open-and-shut case.