Hacking the High-Rises

With world-city status comes big buildings, and they’ll crowd you in if you’re not careful. But the urb-ex community has thought of a helpful solution — get on top of them. Ed Weinberg, Kyle Phanroy, Francis Xavier and Julie Vola used some obliging buildings as footstools to revelation. You can too


STEP 1: Look up.


STEP 2: This is where it gets complicated. There’s going to be a challenge here. Whether it’s simply not peeing in your pants at the sight of the security guard (who’s staring at you not because he’s suspicious, but because you’re nervously sweating) or something more technical, you’ve got to keep your head about you.


STEP 3: If the building’s got a parking garage, drive in. These hammock-bound gatekeepers aren’t standing on high alert for all 18 hours of the workday, and the access is a bit easier to figure out without someone who takes their job somewhat seriously watching you.


STEP 4: If walking in is the only way, give it a try. It can work to your advantage — the sketchy infiltrators are all heading in via parking garage. Make a beeline to the elevators, holding your cell phone to your ear if it looks like someone will want to know where you’re going. Of course, you’re going to your friend’s apartment, you’re talking to them on the phone right now — and if that’s not good enough for Mr. Front Desk, you’ll just sit down on the couch for a few minutes “waiting for them” and staring into your phone, until such time as you pick your cell phone up to your ear again and beat a hasty retreat.


STEP 5: The elevator might be keycard-activated — don’t get discouraged. You don’t want to hit the staircase too early, as this is weird, and you are not weird. Just try to press one of the elevator’s buttons, and if nothing happens, step back outside. Walk into the lobby area, and wait for someone who also looks like they know what they’re doing to walk towards the elevator.


You’ll be looking at your cell phone as you lockstep with them, and when they politely ask you which floor, tell them the second-highest one you can see on the panel — but not the same floor as the citizen. If the separate buttons are keycard-activated, follow your elevator buddy out, staring lasers into your phone (you, mildly exasperated: “He’s such a flake!”).


STEP 6: Exit the elevator, and stare at your phone screen until you’re left alone. Once that happens, walk with purpose until you find one of those telltale ‘EXIT’ signs (or look at the floor plan most modern buildings put near the elevators). Give the stair door a once-over for fire alarms (although the fire alarms often aren’t attached to anything — they’re a pain for maintenance to deal with), and then a confident shove.


Once you’re inside, make sure the door won’t lock behind you, and start walking up. Don’t make noise, as your voice will echo like, well, like someone using the stairs. And no-one uses the stairs.


Some of the fancier staircases have “roof access” labeled at their entrance, but for most you’ll have to learn through trial and error. At the end of your journey, you’ll hopefully see a door. Once again, give it a careful inspection (also looking for nearby cameras, like the one that led to us getting busted on the roof of the Thao Dien Pearl). Then get on out there, winner!


STEP 7: Once you’re on the roof, raise your arms skyward and breathe a deep, extravagant sigh. You’re Leonardo DiCaprio on the prow of the Titanic. Don’t yell too loudly that you’re king of the world, even though you know you are.


Take those sweet roof pics in order of preference — you might be kicked out at any second. But if someone does open the roof access door behind you, wearing that trademark security guard frown, you can relax. The need for subterfuge is over.


Remember: your friend (who is definitely an upstanding building resident/hotel guest) told you to check out the roof. You were just taking some pictures, but no problem, of course you’ll leave, and you’re very sorry for any inconvenience you caused — you didn’t even know you were doing anything wrong! Nooo, you can’t give the guard your friend’s name, you don’t want to get anyone in trouble, you’ll just leave. See, you’re already walking out.


Psychology-wise, this explanation does two very important things. First, it provides plausible deniability that you were doing anything wrong, and second, it offers an easy option for the discipline they’re supposed to administer. In the space of three sentences, you’ve gone from definite rule-breaker to someone who is just confused.


Congratulations, you’re a badass, and the world is your office.



PRO TIP 1 Vietnamese people, just remember: you’re Singaporean, or maybe one of the 18 million Asian-Americans out there. It’s always a good play to put your questioners at a disadvantage, and that involves not knowing the meaning behind the very predictable questions they will be asking you.


PRO TIP 2 Leave no trace. There’s no better way to ruin a nice private sunset-watching/rooftop-picnic-having spot than leaving trash there, which tells the legitimate summiters that they have unpredictable company. If your trash is beer cans and cigarette butts, they’re probably not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.


PRO TIP 3 Remember, you belong here. That’s your sunset this building is crowding out, your sky. Just because someone has more
money than you doesn’t mean they should have a better view.


Also, some of these places have swimming pools.


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