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Constructive criticism: the week in architecture

The design world hits high-voltage this week, with flash openings at historic houses, electric cars racing to the future and RIBA unveiling the British pylons of tomorrow

London Open House takes place this weekend, allowing us to see inside hundreds of historic buildings normally closed to the public. Some, such as the hugely popular Midland Grand Hotel (fronting St Pancras station) and Jimi Hendrix's flat in Mayfair's Brook Street are sold-out, but the choice of buildings to visit is still vast.

What about that trip to Ruislip you never promised yourself, to see 97 Park Road, an unexpected house built by Connell Ward and Lucas in 1936 in the style of Le Corbusier's white Parisian villas of the 1920s? This is the best-preserved of a row of three houses that dumbfounded its neighbours (Ruislip is awash with mock-Tudor and neo-Georgian homes) when they were built. Today, though, it is No 97 that is so very desirable.

Or how about the political and architectural drama of Wrotham Park in Barnet, a magnificent English Palladian country house designed by Isaac Ware in 1754 for Admiral John Byng. The house has featured in numerous films and TV shows including Gosford Park and Sense and Sensibility; doubtless you will spot others. Voltaire satirised poor Byng's death in 1759's Candide: "In this country [England], it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others."

British design is to be encouraged in future at the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington, open to the public this weekend for the last time in its original state before John Pawson converts it into a new home for the Design Museum. With its dramatic hyperbolic paraboloid copper roof (as beautiful to look at as the words that describe it are clumsy), this "tent in the park" pavilion was designed by RMJM; it first opened in 1962.

Details of Open House, Dublin were also revealed this week. Clearly a passionate event, it offers (along with visits to many historic and new buildings) a "Destruction of Dublin" walking tour: all too much of the Georgian city has been destroyed by mindless new development over the past 50 years. Not an event, then, for those heading to Dublin for hen or stag parties and the "craic", but a time to get intelligently under the city's grey stone skin.

This Way Up: 15 Years of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council is a show opening in Hoxton, east London, as part of the London design festival. It tells the story of the Council's attempts to get British creativity noticed by people worldwide. Designs by Tom Dixon, Peter Kennard, Pearson Lloyd, Sebastian Bergne, Nigel Shafran, Michael Marriott and Anthony Burrill will be on show together with four one-off dresses by Basso and Brooke, inspired by their British Council exchange to Uzbekistan.

Designers will be on hand to recycle materials left over from British Council exhibitions. Other objects will be auctioned off, including "everything from giant rolls of Sellotape to fascinating chairs commissioned for shows in Venice," says Vicky Richardson, the British Council's director of architecture, design and fashion. "We wanted to clear out all this stuff, but we didn't want to throw anything away." The money raised will fund a new British Council scholarship giving young British designers the opportunity to work in Brazil.

Audi evoked memories of the intriguing relationship between architects and automobiles when it announced its Urban Concept car this week in time for the Frankfurt motor show. This lightweight, electric two-seater has been designed, says Audi, according to Mies van der Rohe's guiding principle "less is more". More than Mies, though, it calls to mind Le Corbusier's influential, if overlooked, 1929 design for a city car.

Even Le Corbusier never had the hard task of designing an electricity pylon. Contemporary architects, however, have been much involved in the competition organised by RIBA and the Department for Energy and Climate Change for a new standard British pylon. Models by the six pylon finalists will be on show at the V&A during the London design festival. The most convincing is Silhouette by Ian Ritchie Architects and engineers Jane Wernick Associates. It takes the form of a needle-like steel obelisk with well-resolved arms to carry the cables; seen in profile, it would be fairly unobtrusive. Other designs are a little top-heavy (T-Pylon by Bystrup Architects), too flamboyant (Flower Tower by Gustafson Porter with Atelier One and Pfisterer), or simply too dramatic for mass production (the taut, bow-like Plexus by AL_A and Arup). Whichever design wins – final judging takes place on 11 October 2011 – it may yet be back to the drawing board if the existing standard design, dating from 1928, is to be superseded, both technically and aesthetically.

The connection between architecture and engineering is realised memorably in the design of Norman Foster's 1978 Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. This week the Twentieth Century Society announced it was putting forward the building for listing. Expect Grade I status. Unlike Wrotham Park, 97 Park Road or the Commonwealth Institute, this hi-tech masterpiece is open to the public throughout the year. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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