A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh. (Amazon us/uk).

Welcome to the world of the Burglar, its a different one from the world we live in. To them the buildings we live in and use as we are supposed to are full of possibilities, treasure, secret entrances, underground exits, alternative uses.

A Burglar’s Guide covers a historical spread of daring heists, the exploits of George Leonidas Leslie, The hole in the ground gang, and the Roofman1 to name a few. It looks at the art of lock picking, talks to burglars who know the fire codes so well they can read the apartments inside from looking at the fire escape stairs.

“burglars are idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
― Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City

We also see the people pitted against the burglars, from the LAPD helicopter patrol pilots, the designers of saferooms, the burglar trap houses built by the British Police, and in the process we get a flavour of the ever evolving game of cat and mouse they play.

This book could neatly be placed alongside Mike Daviss’ City of Quartz,  Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman, Ground Control by Anna Minton, and theorists from the Situationists onwards and its a punchy and worthy addition to this reading list.

Geoffs insight is that with Architecture comes the Burglar and also those that try to prevent burglars. This ‘misuse’ of Architecture is also another way to see design and the built environment. Its a fun snapshot of many interconnected ideas and it could be another way to explore and think of  the city for all of us.

Links:

  • webcast of Geoff talking about the book.
  1. I particularly like the Roofman as he breaks into MacDonalds Restaurants using his knowledge of their layouts and procedures. As MacDonlads follows the same formulae in every place he can make the same burglary again and again! His burglaries are Simulacrae of the perfect Macdonlads burglary that would work in every MacDonalds on the planet maybe? []

Ground Control

GroundControlGround Control by Anna Minton (Amazon us /uk)

Anna Minton has carefully researched and traced the outline of the policies in the UK behind not only the privatisation of public buildings and space, but have also shaped how we use and think about the city. Grand regeneration projects have turned public space with potential value to everyone into private, corporately managed and policed space, from which the original inhabitants have been all but excluded. Housing Projects have divided communities, created fear and loathing. CCTV and policing policy have exacerbated social divisions.

This thoroughly researched book takes us historically through the key projects and key policies that have brought us to this situation. From the Docklands in the late Eighties under Thaterism through to the present day taking in other major developments across the country. In Liverpool with Liverpool One and Manchester in Exchange Square to name a few of the other major developments that follow this model.

It’s a more encompassing book than just looking at the Urban developments though. It clearly links crime and fear of crime in the UK to the changes in the law and running of developments and housing in the UK. Government policies have reinforced or created these negative effects, the Pathfinder scheme, ASBO’s and Secured by Design. These policies along with the rise of gated communities all over the UK and of CCTV cameras (more in the UK that in the rest of Europe combined) which actually increases the fear and insecurity in society as well as social exclusion. As an example of good writing which clearly links social policy to concrete outcomes in the urban fabric of cities and with actual social outcomes this book sets the bar.

Published in 2009 around the last crash in 2012 an extra chapter was added to cover the Olympic Games of 2012 itself probably worthy of a book. In the conclusion Anna Minton tries to find some silver lining to the dark clouds. Urban Space Management stands out as the lone example she can muster, their Development in Trinity Buoy Wharf an example of how things could have been all over the country. It’s compelling but sobering stuff a must read for anyone in this field and hopefully it has helped to shine a light on an area of public policy which is so opaque but which we should be much more engaged with.

I can’t help but to link this book to The New Aesthetic, the blog by James Bridle that recognises the crossover of the net into the physical world. The use of drones and (mentioned in this book) the mosquito, CCTV and gated communities, all examples of places that exist because of new technology and the ability to produce action at a distance to monitor,control and segregate from anywhere anonymously. Is Britain becoming a visible artifact of the network of control and commerce which has grown up in the last twenty five years in the UK? I sure hope it’s not that bad.