How Buildering Works

By: Mark Boyer

Buildering Safety and Legality

Like any other type of trespassing, buildering is generally illegal and the penalties tend to vary depending on local laws. Along with BASE jumping, parkour and other types of extreme urban exploration, buildering presents a major liability for property owners, and unsurprisingly, most owners don't want their buildings used as jungle gyms.

Climber Dan Goodwin began climbing out of a desire to help firefighters and emergency services rescue people from high-rise fires skyscrapers after witnessing a fire that killed 85 people in Las Vegas. Despite his good intentions, Goodwin has still broken the law to climb skyscrapers around the world without getting permission from their owners. The man known as "Spider Dan" has been arrested at least five times, and he claims that police in Chicago blasted him with a fire hose while he was climbing the 37th floor of the John Hancock Tower. Goodwin's rap sheet is miniscule compared to that of fellow climber Alain Robert, who has been arrested more than 100 times for criminal trespassing [source: Hudson].


Robert completes most of his climbs with nothing more than the chalk on his hands, but other less fearless climbers do use safety devices when climbing buildings. Climbers use everything from a rope and grappling hook to suction cups to keep from falling off the sides of buildings.

Even with ropes and other climbing gear, buildering is just as dangerous -- if not more so -- than rock climbing. The surface and composition of buildings can vary widely, making some very easy to climb and others very difficult. For example, after Alain Robert scaled the New York Times Building in 2008, a police officer told the New York Times, "looking at this building, you don't have to be a professional. This building is like a ladder." That's because the Times building features a distinctive sun screen, making it easy to climb. The police officer was soon proved correct: Later that day, an inexperienced climber from Brooklyn climbed the building.

Other buildings are not so easy, though. Sheer glass buildings can be particularly tough because they lack toe and hand holds. And weather can make building particularly difficult to climb. When Alain Robert was climbing Chicago's then-Sears Tower in 1999, the building was enshrouded in a thick fog, making the surface dangerously slick. Robert frequently cites the Sears Tower among his most difficult climbs.

Although buildering provides a thrill for those who practice it, safety and legal issues are to blame for buildering's relative obscurity. It will probably never be as popular as other recreational activities, like hiking or even its cousin, bouldering, because of the risks involved. And with heightened security around buildings in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, trespassing and climbing the exterior of a forbidden building looks even less alluring. The prospect of getting a fire hose pointed at you or getting arrested and possibly even facing jail time is a pretty big barrier to entry for most folks.