EDITOR’S NOTE: “I have a few guiding principles to my life I always adhere to. The first, and most important, is that each year of my life must surpass the last. I have succeeded in that goal every year so far, though the last four have been particularly exceptional,” says Bradley L. Garrett, a writer, photographer, and researcher with a fascination for uncovering secret hidden spaces in our urban landscapes.

Carrying out explorations of Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and London, Garrett and his crew have bypassed urban safeguards, pushing the boundaries to document views from off-limits territory.

Garrett continues, “Exploration is not a process of learning something new as much as a process of rediscovering what you lost.” What began as a PhD research project focusing on cultural geography has become an internet phenomenon. Garrett’s blog chronicling his field work has received half a million unique visits since November, 2008. His book Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City recounts his adventures and is available for purchase on Amazon. Below is a selection of images and stories from his urban explorations.

1

Ritz-Carlton Residences, Chicago

From ground level, we looked up and noticed a thunderstorm of epic proportions was coming in. We were going to have to hurry if we wanted to climb the best the Midwest had to offer, because the next day we were meeting up with other explorers rolling in from various cities, and we figured our group would then be too large to undertake any elaborate infiltrations. The 40-story Ritz-Carlton Residences had bulbous 360-degree inverted black dome cameras swiveling around, gawping at the piddly four-foot fence surrounding the site. By the time we were standing across the street from it, the rain was coming in from five sides, threatening to breach our bags and assault our fragile cameras. I looked at Marc. He nodded. We ran across the street and gave the camera the finger as we ninja’d the scaffolding and ducked inside.

The main stairwell was easy to find, and at the third floor we hit the crane to bypass security. As soon as we swung out, we got hammered by the rain again. The thunderstorm had intensified into a full-fledged cacophony, complete with blue-forked lighting jabbing in dangerous proximity as our shadowy figures scaled the steel cage towards the clouds. A few floors up, we slunk back to the concrete steps and climbed. After the 20th floor it was sheer adrenaline, fear, and anticipation that kept our legs moving.

Dripping, panting and wrecked, we walked outside on floor 40 to a nightmare of epic proportions. The architecture was in the midst of supra-environmental contractions. Rain was cutting through the building sideways, rattling the makeshift suspension system holding the whole thing together. I was terrified that the air ducts, which appeared to be zip-tied to the incomplete ceiling of the top floor, were going to come down on us. I turned around and was shocked to find Marc standing on an incomplete ledge, being pummeled by the rain, trying to get a ten-second exposure, defying everything that was happening around us. The photos we took that night, of my favorite American city bathed in black cloud and blue light, standing on ledges with lightning strikes crawling down from the clouds into Lake Michigan, captured the most beautiful moments we had seen yet in North America.

2

Legacy Tower 2, Chicago

Marc was pointing at the 72-story Legacy Tower, a complex of luxury high-rise apartments. As it was a live building, the only way we were going to get in was through international explorer teamwork and a bit of social engineering.

3

River Effra, South London

Cracking a sewer lid releases a blast of hot gases and warm air that has its own noxious comfort, especially in the cold of winter. The satisfying clang of the lid over our heads, plunging us into darkness until somebody clicks on their headlight, is fulfilling; the drain is a place of rare safety and security in the city, the traffic noise attenuated to a low hum, drowned out by the sound of water flowing over glistening Victorian brick. The feeling of security is also satisfyingly ironic, of course, given that we had to breach urban security to gain entry, and if it were to rain suddenly, we would likely die.

4

North Queensferry, Scotland

We were on top of the [Fourth Rail] bridge, engulfed by orange floodlights breaking through stagnant fog. The quiet town of North Queensferry was just visible through the vapor, and the sky was a beautiful shade of purple. It was quiet–not even the sound of the sea reached us–until the first sleeper train came flying underneath us at incredible speed. As the structure shook and screeched, I felt like I was riding a dragon.

5

Tour Horizons, Boulogne-Billancourt, France

Author William Gurstelle writes, "Done artfully and wisely, living dangerously engages our intellect, advances society, and even makes us happier." While creating strong bonds of trust between exploration partners, edgework also reaffirms individual subjectivity and creative potential.

6

NEO Bankside, South London

Skyscrapers were a solid proving ground for the new crew.

7

London King's Reach, South London

When I asked ‘Gary’ about our move into infiltration, he told me, “Ruins are great and keep exploring them, but they are kind of “outside” the city. I like doing construction sites because they’re inside the city.” Construction sites, like ruins, were largely hidden, opaque, rendered invisible behind barriers. Although they were many times right in the heart of the city, they were sites of a marginal, exclusive city-in-the-making.

8

The Boneyard, Victorville, California

I’d spent a large chunk of my teenage years driving around in the desert and sleeping next to open bonfires under the stars. Since California coastal cities are where most of the 38-million population is, many forget that 25% of the state is desert and quite arid. Without water, rust can’t form, and things don’t decay very quickly. As a result, the Mojave is a great place to store broken-down equipment and electronics. We found out that there was a massive boneyard filled with hundreds of 'retired' planes, beautifully preserved in the dry Mojave air, 100 miles from LA. We wanted desperately to get in there and look around.

The problem was that the Boneyard is connected to an active military base. We needed a creative solution to this problem, or we were more likely to end up in a military prison than a 747 jumbo jet. So we laid maps out on the truck bonnet and pinned down the corners with cans of Tecate, committing the layout of the perimeter fence and surrounding desert to memory.

9

Hydro Arena, Glasgow

The release of adrenaline becomes addictive, causing participants to spend an increasing amount of time and energy chasing the release. Lucy Sparrow told me a story of a night she and two friends decided to sneak into a live factory outside of Manchester.

10

Embankment pipe subways, London

We knew that when Bazalgette had built the interceptor sewers in the Embankment, he also made room for utility tunnels. Today these subways are packed full of contorted twists of fibre-optic and telecommunication cabling in addition to gas pipes. It wasn’t difficult to figure out how to get into these once we had accessed the sewers.

After walking from Blackfriars to the Embankment Tube station inside the Embankment itself, we arrived at a grill that opened onto the street. Just above us, partygoers were standing out front of a nightclub smoking. We sat down and cracked a beer, watching them through the grate, feeling strangely voyeuristic, though if they had simply looked down through the grate they would have seen us as well. It was as if we existed in different worlds at the same time, like we were inside a China Miéville novel.

Later that night we found a hatch from the cable runs into the speaker wall of the club, straight onto the dance floor. ‘Gary’ said, "Win! We just found a portal to the other dimension!" We planned to return to the pipe subways in suits, go through the hatch, and start dancing, blending in with the crowd.