Text-only ReportsThe Old Milk Factory, UK (1997)
Soviet Train Depot
An Introduction to Urban Exploration
People sometimes ask me when I first got started with urban exploration; my usual response is, "when did you stop?".
We are all born into this world with a natural curiosity for our surroundings, and it is through our early interactions and experiments that we come to form our most basic understandings of the physical realm. Later in life there is a tendency for this curiosity to dissipate... we become comfortable, lazy, or worse still, afraid to 'step out of line'.
To clarify an important point, I have never broken into a building in my life. If I can't find a way in by climbing, crawling, squeezing between bars, or - as is so often the case - simply disregarding a 'No Entry' sign, then I move onto the next location.
The truth is, I find it impossible to walk past any door without wanting to know what is on the other side. When I see an impressive work of architecture, I find myself wondering what it looks like from inside, or from above. Tunnels and drains leave me questioning how far beneath the ground they lead, who built them, and why.
One of the side effects in building our sprawling, multi-layered cities, is that lurking in the gaps between the loci of civilisation there exist countless unexplored spaces - either lost, forgotten, or created entirely by accident. The latter are sometimes the most interesting: an often beautiful, chance ordering of the urban undergrowth.
'Urban exploration' (sometimes shortened to 'Urbex', or 'UE') is actually a relatively new term to me. Until recently, I didn't have a word for it - it was just something I did. Some of my earliest memories include finding a way inside the rat-infested ventilation passage which connected a series of grain silos on the farm where I grew up; another time I was on a woodland outing with the Cub Scouts, when I discovered the entrance to a concrete drain and decided to crawl inside for a look around.
Years later I was amazed to discover that not only did other people all around the world share my curiosity... but that they would also want to read about my trips to these locations!
Of course, this pastime is not without its dangers. Collapsing floors, poor air conditions, broken glass and guard dogs are just a few of the physical threats, and then of course there are the legal ramifications of what many would deem as trespassing.
I feel as though I should make some kind of disclaimer at this point; to tell you, "don't try this at home," or some other such warning. I'm not going to do that though. I believe it is a citizen's right to be able to interact fully with their surroundings, and furthermore, there is nothing more character building than taking the occasional trip outside of your comfort zone.
So, do try this at home! Take the next opportunity you can to look at your world from a whole new angle. Challenge yourself, surprise yourself, and have fun. Live a little.
The only proviso I would offer to those contemplating this post-modernist pastime, would be to use your common sense. Don't take unnecessary risks, and remember that you're not invincible. Don't do this to prove a point, do it for yourself. In addition to that, show a little respect for the places you visit. To quote the unofficial urban explorer's creed,
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints."
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