21st September 2001 at 01:00
Nosy parkers have a treat in store over the coming couple of days. During Open House weekend, 500 London buildings that are usually too private or too prestigious to be visited by the likes of you and me will be offering free access to everyone. These include the new Portcullis House in Westminster, the BBC Television Centre, the Crown Estate Office and the Imagination building in Camden. The full list can be found on But there is more in this than a chance to gawp; it provides an opportunity for children to learn about architecture, helped by Passport to Design.

This scheme will enable 1,000 eight to 11-year-olds, armed with a specially designed "passport", to carry out architectural detective work. One building, the Chelsea home of architect Richard Rogers, will be open only to passport holders and their families. Information: 020 7485 2493.

In a related scheme, Performing Buildings, poets have been commissioned to present new work in appropriate venues, respond to their architecture and interact with ad hoc audiences there. Among these will be performance poet Charlie Dark at Peckham Library (Sunday, 3pm) and Sophie Woolley at St Pancras Chambers.

In east London, Tower Hamlets children spent some of their summer holidays studying buildings and responding in poetry, music and model-making. A concert of their poems and songs will take place tomorrow at midday at Imagination.

Talking of poetry, National Poetry Day is almost upon us. On October 4 there will be poetical activities all over Britain. Ask your local library for details or contact Martin Colthorpe at the Poetry Society: 020 7420 9894 or visit The Royal Academy has two major exhibitions this autumn: Frank Auerbach: paintings and drawings 1954-2001 and Rembrandt's Women (of which more in coming weeks). They are to be presented as complementary - which may at first seem surprising. Yet Auerbach, for all that he is very much of the 20th and 21st centuries, a contemporary of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, is also in a direct line from the great masters of classic art. He has always spent many hours studying the paintings in the National Gallery and his "Study after Deposition by Rembrandt II", painted in 1961, reveals the geometry underlying the original and recalls the bleakness of post-war, bomb-site London.

Auerbach came to Britain in 1939 at the age of eight to escape Hitler. He never saw his parents again. His landscapes and portraits suggest an early traumatic experience, but also a sense of continuity. Although he is not a serial painter in the way that Monet was, he frequently returns to the same subjects, especially Primrose Hill and the area around his Camden studio.

Sitters set aside a particular time each week and are painted regularly over many years - one has been coming for 42 years, others for more than 20.

Auerbach seems to be driven, always aware of mortality, working every day of the year. His early works show a fascination with thick layers of paint, making a structured, 3-D effect. Later, he would scrape down mercilessly, discarding preliminary efforts many times.

A film, Frank Auerbach: to the studio, will be showing at the exhibition. It will also go out on BBC television in November. For information about group bookings and education events: 020 7300 8000; A rare 17th-century leather corset is one of the exhibits in Brief Encounters: the supporting role of underwear at the Croydon Clocktower.

Visitors will be able to try on corsets and crinolines and learn about the history of foundation garments from whalebone to Lycra. Various themes can be explored - hygiene, comfort and support are suggested - as can the role of underwear in women's history and the way body shapes can be changed for sexual and aesthetic reasons. The exhibition runs from October 13 until January. Tickets and information: 020 8253 1030.

That perennial favourite of examiners (and teenage readers), The Lord of the Flies, is taking to the stage again. Pilot Theatre's touring production of Nigel Williams's version of the book opens at the Lowry in Manchester on September 26 and will visit towns all over the UK during the next six months. Information: 01977 604852; The innovative Unicorn Theatre's Red, Red Shoes at the Place in central London (billed as unsuitable for children under nine years old) tells a modern tale of two children caught on opposite sides in civil conflict. But it is not without optimism, and includes dance as well as drama. The Unicorn will hold family days on September 23, 30 and October 6, made up of a workshop exploring dance and drama, a performance of Red, Red Shoes and tea with the actors. Information: 020 7700 0702; tickets: 020 7387 0031.

London's Wigmore Hall is to have a series of children's concerts and workshops in October, starting on October 20 at 11am with Why Beethoven Threw the Stew, for five-year-olds and over. It will include music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Stravinsky. On October 27, there will be a Sea Shanties Family Day to which children are invited to bring their instruments. Tickets: 020 7935 2141.

Heather Neill

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