Access All Areas

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They call it “urban exploration.” Cruising through abandoned factories, tunnels, sewage systems, bridges, and even “live” structures still in use. Why? Because they are beautiful, mysterious, exciting, and not open to everyone. Others simply enjoy “abandonments, decay and industrial mayhem.”

This book is packed solid with great practical advice on how to explore this unexplored realm. Every page has something I didn’t know about gaining access, staying safe, and discovering new paths in the urban wilds. While this activity is generally considered illegal, the respect for the buildings, and the owners, nurtured in this guide is impressive.

There’s a related DVD in the same spirit which contains no advice at all. Rather it’s an ode to urban archeology and the love of forgotten buildings.

– KK

Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration
Ninjalicious
2005, 242 pages
$15
Available from Amazon

Echoes of Forgotten Places
Produced by Scribble Media
2005, 63 min.
$9 (used), DVD
Available from Amazon

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Still from Echoes of Forgotten Places

Sample book excerpts:

Sometimes you’ll want to head through a room, hallway or stairwell that’s off-limits and monitored by a camera. In many cases the best way past such a camera is to calmly walk past the camera. Certainly, this will work more often than snipping the wires, cycling the video feed or any other elaborate spy stunts.

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Directions left by past tunnelers can be quite useful, though they should be taken with a grain of salt. People make mistakes.

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While I’m a big advocate of properly researching a place to get the inside scoop on how to act like you’re supposed to be there, sometimes it’s also necessary, or at least fun, to fly by the seat of your pants. In such cases, you may suddenly find yourself questioned by someone, or needing to speak with someone in order to get through a particular barrier, without having any real idea what might be a plausible reason for you to be there.

In such a case, I recommend just stalling for a time and letting the person you’re talking to supply your excuse for you. People hate uncomfortable silences and confusing situations and will often rush to supply the information they’re looking for themselves. Good stalling phrases include: “I hope you can help me”; “I’m not sure exactly what the procedure is here”; “Do I need to show you some ID?”; “I didn’t even know I was going to have to speak to anyone about this” or something of that sort. After you say one of these lines, wait for a response. People generally want to believe that the people around them are rational, so they’ll more or less tell you the most rational reason they can conceive of for your presence — “Are you here for the class?”; “You must be looking for Mark”; “Are you one of today’s volunteers?”; “I guess you’re looking for the way to the observation level”; etc. You don’t have to come up with a good reason — you just have to agree to the one they devise for you. Once you perfect the skill of stalling without seeming like you’re stalling, this will work for you quite often.

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In most cases, your focus shouldn’t be on defeating motion detectors, but on spotting them and avoiding them. If you constantly keep an eye out for motion detectors at all times and in all locations, you’ll gradually get a sense of where they’re installed, and learn that you have to be especially careful near doorways, roof hatches, outside exits, the tops and bottoms of stairwells and similar locations. And you’ll get familiar with the slightly more out-of-the-way routes that can be used to avoid them.

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Many explorers go out of their way to visit abandoned buildings during the day, both to avoid potential problems with flashlights and camera flashes at night and also because buildings tend to look and photograph a lot better in natural light. As an additional bonus, exploring during daylight hours makes you less likely to step into a hole you didn’t notice. The main advantage of exploring at night is that darkness, when properly used, can provide a good deal of concealment while you’re trying to get into a building, or while you’re climbing about on its roof. Exploring an abandoned building at night can also be very pleasantly creepy.

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Ventilation shafts really can be used to move from room to room, and in large ones crawling on your knees and elbows is not normally a necessity.

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When we visit abandoned buildings, our senses are so heightened by the idea of having earned a glimpse of something unique and forbidden that we intensely savour the splendour and wonder of the place. But cities are full of beautiful, neglected, charming and authentic places and these aren’t all inside abandoned buildings — not by a long shot. Some of the city’s most surprising and impressive places are courthouses, theatres, libraries, museums, stadia, office buildings, hospitals, transit stations and similar buildings that are still more or less open for business. Just about any interesting old building is worth a look and so are a lot of newer ones. Go in and find their secrets. Climb every ladder. Open every door. Summit every rooftop, etc.

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In my experience, the absolute optimal time for infiltrating an office tower or similar place of business is between 4pm and 6pm on a Friday night. Between 4pm and 6pm, all the employees are taking off, but the cleaning crews and evening security patrol haven’t yet been around. And Friday afternoon is by far the most laid back time at virtually any business.

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Crossover floors, whatever their signs may warn, should be unlocked in compliance with fire codes. They’re good routes out of stairwells.

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Looking unsuspicious is a big part of using elevators for exploration. If you’re on the ground floor and you want to go down, or it you’re near the top of the building and you want to go up, it may be in your best interest to push the wrong button, just in case a guard or employee joins you. You can change your mind and your direction once the elevator arrives, providing it’s empty. If you’re sharing an elevator with others, if you worry that others might get on part way through your ride or if you simply worry that you’re looking suspicious, you may want to send out similar miscues about what floors you’re visiting when you hop onto the elevator. If you seek the roof of a 50-story building, hit 36. If you have the elevator to yourself when you arrive at 36, hit 47, and walk up from there. (If you look and feel confident, you needn’t take these sort of precautions — these tips apply only when you feel out of place or out of your league.)