Urbex – also known as Urban Exploration – is not something new, but it is becoming more and more popular. Urban Exploration consists of visiting abandoned places within an urban environment, such as old factories, tunnels that aren’t used anymore, old churches in ruins …that’s right, it really is about visiting abandoned buildings.
Urbex is a way for people to discover a urban world in which the environment is not controlled by humans anymore. In some cases nature has taken over and you can find roots growing through the concrete. Once you are inside the building, you can let your curiosity run free. See that ladder here? Why not try to climb up? No one will tell you what to do. And this door, what if you tried to open it? What could possibly stop you from opening it? The sign “Danger” on the door?
Danger. This is one of the only thing that could stop you in your exploration. Some street artists, who have experience in this field, managed to sneak in remarkable places, but they do it knowing there is a risk when you are exploring abandoned places, and mostm of all, they have experience.
In the north of Paris, an abandoned supermarket was found by street artists Lek and Sowat. After exploring it and seeing the gigantic capacity of this abandoned building (40 000 m²), they decided to start a project called Mausolée. They would invite other street artists to perform their art on the walls of this supermarket. They have also shot a video – you will find it below – which enables us to see how fascinating these places can be.
But several interviews of those two artists reveal how hard the access to this place was, for common people. They had to walk through “bushes full of shit, places where prostitutes and drug dealers were doing their business, and where it was nearly impossible to breath”. They also had to cope with heights, climbing up on an iron bar and suspended above a kind of turbine, with rusty barbed wires all around. Not easy. But the result of their courageous exploration is rather impressive.
If you are curious about these places and amazed by the beauty of old factories, buildings in ruins, rusty pipes and so on, but you are not… let’s say, very athletic – and I know what I am talking about here – all these amazing places are not easily accessible. Still, you can find places in which you can sneak in quite easily. Last year, back when I was living in Cork, I could see from my bedroom’s window a big building that seemed to be abandoned. It took me a while to decide to climb up the other side of the hill in order to find a way to get as close as possible to this place.
So there I was, in the middle of a residential estate, trying to understand how I could get in the abandoned part without dying. From my first visit, I learned that one part of the building had been renewed in a classy residential zone, but that the other part was still abandoned, and that other abandoned buildings were around this very same area. I also learned that some CCTV were in operation around the building. And the most exciting thing: the building was actually an abandoned mental hospital which partly burnt down years ago. G-R-E-A-T.
I then tried to learn more about the place, it was actually made up of two big buildings. Our Lady’s Hospital was the main building, the one which partly burnt down. St Kevin’s Hospital was the red brick building built in 1893, to support the first building. A friend of mine already visited the place, so he knew where was the easiest way to get in. We had to walk through the estate, pass through bushes, climb up a small rocky hill, walk a tiny bit through bushes again and slip under barbed wires. I thought that I’d die about five times, but you have to consider the fact that I sometimes step on my own feet when I walk on the perfectly flat pavement of Dublin city.
We managed to get in few buildings, but the main ones remained inaccessible. Metal panels were sealing windows and doors, chains and locks have been added to those panels. I think you could have managed to get in if you had a pneumatic drill. Unfortunately, mine wouldn’t fit in my pocket, no matter how hard I tried.
When I went back home, in Paris, a friend of mine was motivated to try to find entrances to what we call La Petite Ceinture. This place is actually an abandoned railway that goes around Paris. My friend heard about several entrances to this place, but also told me that the city of Paris was beginning to work on those abandoned parts. They had in mind to make those places all clean and accessible to the public. We had to try to get there before they started cleaning everything. She lead me to the first entrance, we had to slip under a fence.
She managed to do it, but told me that after the fence, there was a big hole that would bother us a lot when we’d try to climb back up. She added that, moreover, she wasn’t sure whether the thing she rolled in when getting under the fence was really only mud. The size of my belly would not allow me to slip under the fence anyway. Once again, I should have brought my pneumatic drill. We tried another entrance, that looked really accessible, but believe it or not, two guards decided to show up. My friend being covered in mud and I having several spray cans in the backpack, we knew that we were looking suspicious, and decided to leave. We eventually found the entrance of a tiny part of La Petite Ceinture. But the railway was soon joining an active railway, and some security guards from the RATP – the French company in charge of public transportation – were watching us.
So, what is to be remembered from all of this? Well, firstly, open your eyes when you are walking around town. You might find a building worth visiting. Secondly, do something that won’t cause you to be in danger: people do not have the same physical capacities. Start small, and if you feel like daring more and more, then go for it! Thirdly, keep in mind that there is nothing legal in doing this; even though you’re technically not doing anything harmful to anyone else, if a security guy finds you, you might be fined.
And finally, bring your pneumatic drill with you.