“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.


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


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


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.


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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Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Wednesday Mar 24, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Now that I had been underground in New York, I thought I might as well go aboveground as well. Luckily, I happen to be staying in a lovingly decrepit 15 story building on 5th Avenue and 31st this week with a nice view of the Empire State Building.

Not nearly high enough!

Taking the lift to the 14th floor, I walked out into what was clearly some sort of space for workers living in the hotel. Luckily they were asleep. I took a quick tour around and found a big black door marked “Emergency Exit, alarm will sound.” That’ll be the one I want. I hit the lift button just in case the alarm actually went off so I could jump in and make my escape. The lift doors opened with a ding and I hit the the metal bar on the door. With a sucking sound, the cold air rushed in, alarm free.

I stepped outside onto a lovely roof. Not the highest I have ever done by any means but it had two sketchy water towers on it to get up on more floor (though you had to lay on their sloped roofs rather awkwardly to get shots!). There were also multiple levels connected by rusty ladders which I enjoyed walking up with no hands. I spent the rest of the night laying around staring at a beautiful skyline shrouded in moonlight and soft city glow.

Water Tower Tipsy

Peep show

Nights like these

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The Londinium Crew

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Jan 17, 2010 Under Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

Our first big meetup of 2010, starting off the year right! The day began early and ended late, with people joining the expedition as we moved from place to place. The explore concluded in the The Cittie of Yorke pub, smiles all around. Love this crew.


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Solo Rooftopping in Clapham

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Jan 16, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

This morning, diligent as ever in my new year resolution fervour, I was at the gym at 8am. I needed it, needed time to think. I have recently been going through this crisis trying to “return from the field” and have been experiencing what can only be called withdrawals. People talk about this, but in my case, given the high-adrenaline nature of my work, I think it is actually physical. Maybe it is for everyone. My point is, I looked out the window while I was doing sit-ups and listening to a lecture on Heideggerian phenomenology and noticed that this really locked down construction site had entered the demolition process. The builders had busted out windows to throw stuff out of the top floors, right next to the scaffolding. The barbed wire was taking a beating form the work. Good news for me.

Hours later, I was having a conversation with my friend and colleague Erika Sigvardsdotter about the fact that we can never become our research, to do so would be to deny that we had bodies, to suppress our physical existence for an intellectual one. Neither extreme is healthy we decided, balance must be maintained between experience and analysis. I figured this weekend was my last chance to crawl around in this place and Erika encouraged me to go. So I did. Alone.

The other week, I went into Battersea solo to meet up with friends and found it to be… well… rather liberating. Knowing that you only have to depend on yourself, you can be as quiet as you are able. You can take your time. You can pay more attention to your experience. You can run like hell if you have to.

Since my research is about urban exploration culture, I don’t usually solo places. I also don’t usually do infiltrations. But as I mentioned in my last post, change is in the air this winter. After short walk, I was over the fence, staring at the scaff on the side of the building.

Stuff to climb. Dope.

I believe it is, at the moment, the tallest building in Clapham (maybe 10 stories?). Whatever the case, I was determined to get to the roof. Determined enough to ignore some things on the way up.

Sure thing guys

Yeah okay I got the message

On the way to the top, I ran into a brochure for the development. It was strange to think that someone may have placed it there just this afternoon; maybe giving a tour to the new owners.

Pamphlet for gentrification

If fact, the whole time I was there, I held an amazing sense of euphoria. Hours ago, people were at work here, throwing “trash” out of the windows. Now I was here while they were at home drinking beer in front of the telly. I was wearing their high-vis vest, trying on their hardhats, playing in their machines and kicking their “trash” around. It made me think of Danny Pack‘s comment on my last post;

sharing a live site with security, workers, staff and cctv cameras provides the adrenaline hit that abandoned buildings never can – its the polar opposite of the trust you gain knowing you have a certain space to yourself, if just for a few hours.

As the climb continued, the horrible Friday night cacophony from Clapham High Street turned into a whisper.

Going up

Soon I found the ladder to the roof and looked down on the day’s work that had taken place. It always amazes me how slowly a building goes up and how quickly they can come down. This building was sitting there, stagnant, a week ago; now half of it is missing.

Wave goodbye!

I become suddenly righteous behind the camera, the paladin of the forgotten, running around the rooftop screaming and capturing every angle.

Silent side streets

Not-so-silent high street

Oh look, something hanging over the high street

All pumped up on my perceived powers over time and space, I grab the metal and swing out over the high street…

You knew that was going to happen didn't you?

I spent a while sitting on the rooftop, doing nothing. Thinking. Being in love with the experience. This is the part of UrbEx you don’t usually share with people. I watched the lives moving below me, trying to not let my vision filter into some nerdy academic thought about rhythmanalysis or something. I found it difficult, until I caught this moment.

I don't want to guess, seriously.

Now, I was too high up to hear what was going on. I wondered who these people were. Did they meet tonight? Have they been together for ages? Is he offering her his jacket or getting ready to assault her? No way to tell from here. I feel bad for watching them, then I feel I have a right to. If CCTV can watch all these people, so can I. These conflicting emotions are confusing and after fighting with myself for a minute I walk away, laughing out loud at my propensities fro overanalysis, to go take pictures toward London, Dark Princess Battersea glowing off in the distance. My home. My city.

Chartered street toward the chartered Thames

The walk down was quiet, I took my time and even sat to cry for a while when I thought of the memories that would collapse with this building. Urban exploration is more real than my real life.

So, here is the nightcap. I walked home from here at 2am, noticing for the first time how stupid I look when I am out drunk in my neighbourhood. Everyone kept chatting with me and I wondered why. I Realized when I got home that my fucking headlight was still perched on my bowler hat. FAIL!

Anyway, a great Friday night. I look forward to more of them. Off to sleep I go at 5am, goodnight Clapham, goodnight London!

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