Urban exploration

From Academic Kids

Missing image
An urban explorer stands near the outfall of a muffin shaped brick and concrete storm drain, under Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Urban exploration, urbex or UE, is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of human civilization. Urban exploration is also commonly referred to as Infiltration, although some people consider Infiltration to be more closely associated with the exploration of active or inhabited sites. In the USA, Urban Exploration may also be refered to as "reality hacking," "urban spelunking," and "urban caving."


Targets of exploration

UE can further be separated into subcategories. Urban explorers do any or all of these things, but often specialize on one or two.


Ventures into abandoned structures are perhaps the most common example of UE. Abandoned sites are generally entered first by locals, and often sport large amounts of graffiti and other vandalism. Explorers often focus on the natural decay, as nature grows trees on the roof and weeds in the carpet, and unnatural decay of the structure as scrappers, looters, squatters, and vandals demolish the building from the inside out. Exploration targets vary from one country to another, however some of the more common abandoned structures to explore include:


Active tunnels include steam (such as those found under large building complexes with a central boiler), electricity, telephone, water, and other utility tunnels; subway or Underground Railway and other transit tunnels; and stormwater or sanitary sewers.

Utility tunnels

Universities and other large institutions, such as Hospitals often distribute steam for heating buildings from a central heating plant (Boiler House). These steam ducts are generally run through tunnels, which are often accessible to humans for the purposes of maintenance . North American Universities that have steam tunnels often also have a tradition of steam tunnel exploration by students. This was once called vadding at MIT, though students there now refer to it as Roof and tunnel hacking.

Steam tunnels in general have been getting more secure in recent years, due to their use for carrying network backbones and mass hysteria over potential terrorism.


Entry into storm drains, or draining, is another common form of UE. Groups devoted to the task have arisen, such as the Cave Clan in Australia. Draining has a specialized set of guidelines, the foremost of which is "When it rains, no drains."

A small subset of explorers enters sanitary sewers. Sometimes they are the only connection to caves or other subterranean feature. Sewers are among the most dangerous locations to explore, and those who explore them are often on the fringe of a group that's already on the fringe of society.

Transit tunnels

The penalties for getting caught in subway/underground railway tunnels are some of the strictest involved in this hobby. As a result, subway exploration is usually the least publicised type of exploration. New York City probably has the largest number of subway explorers, although others exist in most major european cities, including London and Moscow.

Active buildings

Another aspect of urban exploration is the practice of exploring active or in use buildings. This includes seeing secured or member-only areas, mechanical rooms, roofs, elevator rooms, and other normally unseen parts of such buildings.


UE is not a crime per se, and most explorers do not see it as done to break laws, other than trespassing, which is merely a crime which is deemed necessary, and not as a malicious act. Explorers generally justify their crimes as usufruct, because they enjoy the location without causing harm or depriving the owner of their property. The common but not always entirely accurate catchphrase for this ethical standpoint is the Sierra Club's motto: "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." The common code of ethics frowns heavily upon theft, vandalism, tagging, graffitti, and any other crime except for trespassing.

Exceptions to the rule exist. Graffitti in drains is sometimes condoned or encouraged in some circles, as long as speleothems and other features aren't damaged. Some explorers remove items from abandoned sites, to preserve them or to have a souvenir. Many locations contain a small area reserved for leaving tags, known as a guest book.

See also

External links


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