Interview with Place Hacker Bradley Garrett


In his recre­ation­al tres­pass­ing exploits, Bradley Gar­rett has explored derelict insane asy­lums, for­got­ten under­ground rail lines, and muse­um base­ments that haven’t been touched in decades. He’s scaled the 76 floors of Europe’s for­mer tallest build­ing, The Shard, and kept going, reach­ing the sum­mit of a builder’s crane so high that, as he told Forbes, every­thing below “looked like con­verg­ing riv­er systems—a giant urban cir­cuit board.”

He did it all in the name of “place hack­ing,” an activ­i­ty under­tak­en by an urban, anti-author­i­tar­i­an sub­cul­ture of explor­ers who seek to redis­cov­er the for­got­ten and the dilap­i­dat­ed, the nev­er-before-seen views and the mod­ern-day ruins that cities through­out the world have to offer. You’ve seen their pho­tos before: black-clad and masked fig­ures, at night, in some unimag­in­able place that peo­ple aren’t sup­posed to be. It’s wilder­ness explo­ration in an urban set­ting. It’s not about van­dal­ism, but rather curios­i­ty and nos­tal­gia, the appre­ci­a­tion of lost, undis­closed and for­got­ten places.

Recent­ly Gar­rett pub­lished a book “Explore Every­thing: Place-Hack­ing the City.” It’s a rol­lick­ing, inspir­ing read (and you should def­i­nite­ly pick up a copy). Here he gives us a taste of the world he lives in.

The Clymb: First off, all of this is ille­gal to vary­ing degree. How do you pull off a place hack?
Bradley Gar­rett: Most­ly it’s prepa­ra­tion: Find­ing loca­tions, plot­ting them on a map, fig­ur­ing out poten­tial routes, and then it’s a mat­ter of going there, look­ing for cam­eras, see­ing when traf­fic is heavy, and fig­ur­ing out how to climb up. There’s this mas­sive bridge—the Fourth Rail Bridge in Scot­land. We climbed up the north side of the bridge, then crawled across and through the bridge all the way to the south side, prob­a­bly almost a mile. We found a way inside the pylons, climbed up those instead of the exte­ri­or. We may have been the first peo­ple to do that. For the New­port Trans­porter, you can walk up the sus­pen­sion cables. With sub­ter­ranean stuff, you lit­er­al­ly spend days open­ing up every man­hole cov­er and map­ping them out, cross­ing them off a list to con­nect things.

The Clymb: Do you ever co-opt these spaces?
BG: We do. We had a squat for about six months in Lon­don, like an UrbEx head­quar­ters. We threw a par­ty last year inside the Lon­don Bridge. We got 86 peo­ple in, and it was awe­some. 2:00 a.m. in London—it just blend­ed into the city noise. Nobody knew there was this rager going on.

London Bridge

The Clymb: There’s seems to be a tran­si­tion with some urban explor­ers; it’s gone from seek­ing out mod­ern-day ruins [images of these places often called “ruin porn”] to scal­ing enor­mous build­ings… 
BG: That’s what we’re into now: big tar­gets or con­nect­ing sys­tems. The whole urban explor­er men­tal­i­ty of sneak­ing into an aban­doned asy­lum doesn’t real­ly reg­is­ter with us any­more. It’s typ­i­cal explor­er men­tal­i­ty, col­lect­ing sets and mak­ing world records: the high­est build­ing, all of the bridges, etcetera. I think that’s much more interesting. 

The Clymb: What’s the draw for you? The phi­los­o­phy behind the action?
BG: So much of our lives are just on rails now. You go to work. You go home. You buy gro­ceries and do your laun­dry. Even when you try to break out of it, you take up scu­ba div­ing or paraglid­ing or any­thing just to mix it up, you quick­ly find that that shit’s on rails too. All of their ethics are guid­ed by some asso­ci­a­tion that you have to pay fees to and they want you to have insur­ance. This stuff just dri­ves me absolute­ly insane. The thing I love about UrbEx is that there are absolute­ly no rules and we have no idea what’s going to hap­pen. It can go hor­ri­bly wrong. But often it doesn’t! You try some­thing that shouldn’t work and then you’re like, ‘My God, that worked. We did it. I can’t believe we’re here right now.’ And then you real­ize that so much of the rea­son why we don’t do things is because peo­ple tell you it can’t be done or you shouldn’t do it. But it’s all just an illu­sion. And the more of this stuff you do the more it actu­al­ly starts to rewire your brain and you start see­ing the world in a dif­fer­ent way. And I think that’s the hack­er men­tal­i­ty I’m always think­ing about. Every­thing becomes hackable.