“It’s about the risk sometimes.”
– Winch

A matter of scale and distortion

Part I: The Sounding

Let’s get those photoreceptor cells warmed up and neurons bouncing people, it’s time for Place Hacking Chicago, where secret spatial knowledge leaks out like early-morning pillow drool through cracks in the urban security infrastructure.

Chicago was a slimy glimmer as Marc and I sped in, sleep deprived, stinky and tweaked out on our successes in Detroit. We had been hearing rumours of an extensive tunnel system modelled on London’s Mail Rail where some fiendish little schizophrenic called Dr. Chaos had hidden cyanide stolen from the University of Chicago back in the early aughts. Apparently it was accessible through manhole covers, gated up with steel doors that had pins we could pop out with a hammer and screwdriver. Next stop Home Depot we figured, we’re going underground.

But Chicago presented those tunnels as false idols to be chased and worshipped by neophyte place hackers looking for lone star epics to boost international credibility and couch surfing bonus cred. Marc and I read the runes and realised our destiny lay in the heavens of the Windy City. We first hit the Hilton Chicago where we were advised the doors to the elevator controls were poppable with a credit card. Within minutes of arriving downtown, we were up the fire escape and on the roof.

Simple tech

Warm up

But the Hilton’s rooftop, sexy as it was, left us unsatiated. We looked higher and noticed a thunderstorm of epic proportions coming to meet us downtown. It was prime time to climb the highest the midwest had to offer and grab hold of Chicago’s gods – big cumulonimbus death eaters ready to thunder down bolts of righteous over Lake Michigan.

The 40-story Ritz Carlton Residences had the Eye of Suaron on them, a bulbous 360-degree inverted black dome swivelling around and gaping at the piddly four-foot fence into the site. By the time we were standing in front of it, the rain was coming in from five sides, threatening to breach our bags and assault the fragile electronics in our cameras. I looked to Marc. He nodded. We ran across the street and gave the camera the finger as we ninja’d the scaffolding and ducked inside. The first set of stairs was easy to find but hominid specific ultrasonic vibrations on the third floor revealed a fat man in a bright vest reading Maxim at a desk facing the wrong way to actually perform the job he was being paid for. We left him to it and hit the crane to bypass third floor stair ‘security’. As soon as we swung onto the crane we got hammered by the gods of Lake Michigan again. Their wrath was significant at this point. The thunderstorm had intensified into a full-fledged sensory cacophony complete with blue forked lighting strikes jabbing in dangerous proximity as our shadowy figures scaled the steel cage toward the stars. A few floors up, past the stair barriers, we snuck back to the concrete steps and climbed. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever climbed 40 floors but the thing is that if you’re in reasonably good shape at 20 you’re fucked. After that, it’s just sheer adrenaline, fear and unquenchable anticipation that keeps the legs moving. Add to that the fact the we were eating primarily trail mix and woke up that morning (14 hours ago? 20?) on top of a port building in Detroit and you start to get an idea of what we are up against here. We chilled for a second.

Our move

Then we heard them. Sirens. Everywhere. They converged on our location and the blood drained from Marc’s face. Without a blink, he cinched his pack straps and said ‘if I’m getting busted, I’m getting busted on top’ and resumed climbing. Cheeky. We hit the stairs with renewed vigour, every turn in the case cranking up the heat, the angst, the fervour. By the time we get the top, I’m locked in a perpetual dubstep stair wobble and my thighs feel like they’ve been skewered and stuck over a campfire until they involuntarily pulsate.

Nights that thunder

Dripping, panting and wrecked, we walk outside on floor 40 to a nightmare of epic proportions. The architecture is in the midst of supra-environmental contractions rolling in every two minutes, ready to electroporate holes in our cell membranes. The place is heaving and screaming as the gods of Lake Michigan hurl down forks of fury at this giant concrete and metal phallus we just climbed. I am, quiet seriously, terrified that the air ducts, which appear to be zip-tied to the scaffolding, are going to come down on us. And then I see it. Marc Explo is standing on an incomplete ledge being whipped by the rain, defying the gods of Chicago. And the rain stops. And the sirens stop. We look over the edge and there’s nobody there but methamphetamine-addled cab drivers, confused, jetlagged tourists and drunk dudes in loosened ties cruising the Magnificent Mile for violence. Turns out, the sirens probably had nothing to do with us. More false idols.

Godslayer

To this day I still swear Marc assassinated the gods of Chicago. Or maybe he just appeased them with his audacity, for they appeared to linger in wait, providing us with ample opportunity to take our photos in their image, replicating their relentless bombardment for the sake of the Powerslide. In that brief respite between aerial assaults we became the new gods of Chicago and we didn’t intend to take our responsibilities as false prophets lightly. We immediately ran back down 40 floors, bought a beer and popped a hatch in the middle of the one of the Chicago River bridges, toasting those who failed to attend this feckless roadtrip, and those who were on different ones, while the monsoon continued.

Bobble headed optimist

Tributary

The next day we found ourselves working harder than we should have to sneak into an abandoned Brach’s candy factory. The two events of note within that dirtheap of a building were (1) a guy living in a tent on the third floor of the Chewy Candies Caramels® assembly line (who had clearly located a superior ingress/egress route to us) and (2) the fact that the whole factory reeked of marshmallows, nuts and chocolate. If Place Hacking was scratch and sniff, I could have bottled and relayed the smell of derelict chocolate. Since we haven’t uncovered that particular technological wonder just yet, you will have to fly to Chicago and climb over that fence yourself. Sorry.

The bridge to Candyland

Aromaquest

We saw other places. Events transpired. Sometimes we catalysed them. In other moments we were the victims of dirty tricks and absurd bureaucratic mishaps. I got hurt again falling in a hole somewhere and reinjured my broken rib. Such is life on the road. Then I woke up on a sand dune in Gary, Indiana and Marc wasn’t with me. I found him later at Michael Jackson’s childhood home where he was hanging out with Michael’s cousin Ron (no joke).

Lost only on maps

_______________________

Part II: The Legacy

“We must act out of passion before we can feel it.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

Fast forward a few weeks to Indianapolis where we gathered with the world’s great place hackers, blaggers, security subverters and professional infiltrators. After hearing of our successes in Chicago, Marc and I headed back downtown on our way to Minneapolis with Witek, Craig, Darlin Clem, Babushka, Otter and Adam. Everything is more fun with friends. Especially friends like these.

After nailing the Hilton one more time (in the middle of the day no less), Marc had this crazy idea to try and social engineer our way up the 72-story Legacy Tower by following in residents, acting like we were headed to a party. We all tried to hold our giggles as the residents in front of us swiped their keycard and we packed our crew into the lift with them. On the 72nd floor, the lock to the roof fell off. Must’ve been some lingering remnant of those false god superpowers.

The social building hack

No panic attack

We collectively decided to wait for sunset to see the city light up from 250 meters above the city streets. As night descended, eight of us perched on the ledge, my heart bloomed. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.

Spectacularity

A surety of

Elevated conciousness

The Great Legacy Tower Infiltration, our final mission in Chicago during the 2011 Midwest Powerslide, was a wonder. I left with the feeling that if I were ever to move back to the United States *gasp*, Chicago would be the place. When we walked out the lobby, security opened the door for us and told us to have a good night. Thus is the gift to those who don’t play by the rules.

_________________________________________

Cheers to my family for having us over in Elgin for BBQ, a much needed night’s sleep in a bed and, of course, pool time. A huge shoutout to Chicago for being such a bucket of win – that’s some city you’ve built there people.

_________________________________________

The spatial revolution is upon us; join us in making place open access again.

Explore Everything.

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23 Responses to “Space & Grime: Sapping Chicago’s Skyscrapers”

  1. Cogito Says:

    Reading through this had me grinning ear to ear, then to top it off the photos made me realise that all the rooftops in London aren't going to satisfy my lust for verticality right now. Big things.

  2. Tomms Says:

    Great story, better photos

  3. Dicky Says:

    Captivating and inspiring. Good work sir's !!!

  4. shotgun_mario Says:

    Last month I wrote a paper on group dynamics about the legacy tower incident. Pretty sure you left our distraction out of your version, while I focused on that :P

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  6. Everton Almeida Says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!

    I really enjoy your work – It’s Wonderful.

    I’m from Brazil, and, recently, I’ve been thinking about the possibility to do something like that!

    But the way, some time ago a workman found a art gallery (probably from 18th century) – It’s just unbelievable, but it happens!!

    So keep working, and have in your mind that there’s fantastic and unexplored places around the world.

    The right people will recognize this wonderful work

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  8. Josh Jones Says:

    Totally nuts photos. The one of you sat on the edge of the building looking down actually made my stomach go funny!!!

  9. stevie geraldson Says:

    Amazing stuff. You've actually made me want to get my camera out and start taking photos again!

  10. Benjamin Says:

    Where is that candy factory located?

  11. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Um, it was in South Chicago somewhere, I'm not really sure!

  12. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Found it in my maps! http://g.co/maps/x9p6q Good luck!

  13. Sin City Supernova | Place Hacking Says:

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  14. A.H Says:

    Keep it up horizon hunters xo

  15. Dan Heater Says:

    Woo this is too risky.. Seems they are too brave.

  16. Jack Hongrie Says:

    Wow! It is just amazing, my stomach is having butterflies by watching you guys at edge of these towers. You are really brave heart. Quality posts is the key to invite the viewers to pay a quick visit the website, that’s what this website is providing.

  17. Natalia Wilson Says:

    Wow! excellent click, breathtaking position and amazing picturesque. Only the brave heart can take this sizzling pictures. I like your narration style. Keep doing guys! waiting for for next post.

  18. jocuri Says:

    great post fantastic

  19. inxyTrolls Says:

    i don't know how i got here but this is awesome

  20. Plombier Eguilles Says:

    Great story but more important are the photos. They sometimes take the breath away. Interesting post and would look forward to your future posts. They are new and promise visual adventures to couch potatoes like me.

  21. mary Says:

    what building are you on top of it the first picture?

  22. Goblinmerchant Says:

    That would be the Legacy Tower.

  23. Steve Says:

    As a Chicagoan, thanks for posting. These are amazing.

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