Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rooftoppers: The Lure of Tall Buildings

When teenager Harry Gallagher clambered on to the roof of Canary Wharf’s highest building his exploits went viral. Gallagher, 19, aka Nightscape, is a rooftopper, someone who gains access to buildings and restricted spaces to take photographs of themselves, often hanging in precarious poses. To the uninitiated, it might appear to be a new phenomenon, but rooftopping’s genesis lies in the long-established urban explorer movement, known as urbex.

An early exponent was Jeff Chapman, or Ninjalicious, the late Toronto-based explorer who in the early noughties infiltrated buildings and underground systems, recording his adventures in his zine, Infiltration. Chapman tended to shun the limelight, but now rooftoppers are aiming ever higher in their quest for personal glory and reward.

“Urban exploring is beginning to splinter into different practices,” said Theo Kindynis, a criminologist at Roehampton University. “What was traditionally thought of as urban exploration, fetishists exploring abandoned mental asylums, that sort of thing, is mutating. You’ve now got subway explorers and you’ve got rooftoppers like Nightscape doing the foot-dangling thing. As a result, you’ve got new attitudes and etiquettes evolving. The old ‘take-nothing-but-photos-leave-nothing-but-footprints’ adage is increasingly irrelevant.”

Gallagher has previously targeted Robin Hood airport in Doncaster, the roof of West Ham’s new stadium, and the London Olympic park’s Orbit structure. His exploits are posted on his YouTube channel and promoted through Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. His latest “hack”, released online last week, will have helped send his reputation soaring. Gallagher and a friend can be seen climbing on to the roof of One Canada Square and scaling its pyramid.

At the start of the video, already viewed 450,000 times and liked by 45,000 people on YouTube, the pair describe the challenge as “almost impossible” and express astonishment that they were able to pull it off. But Kindynis is not convinced. “These guys are notorious within the scene for poaching other people’s spots. I highly doubt they were the first people to get on to the roof of One Canada Square. They were probably told how to do it by someone else. Within the urbex community, these things tend to be kept hush-hush, but now it’s on YouTube and they will have changed their security measures so nobody else will be able to enjoy that rooftop.

“Within certain elements of the community, these guys are not liked. They are seen as a problem. Cranes and construction sites and rooftops are getting locked down because these guys are prostituting it to social media.”

The high-profile stunts of Gallagher and his cohorts seem a world away from urbex’s original ethos and its political overtones. In an article for Domus magazine in 2011, Dr Bradley Garrett, an urban explorer and a geographer at Southampton University, suggested that urbex practitioners were reviving the practice of “usufruct” – “which basically means that someone has the right to use and enjoy the property of another, provided it is not changed or damaged in any way”.

But Kindynis suggests the selfie generation are not in it for the philosophy.

“For the people doing it, it’s all about the image, getting the cool, exclusive YouTubable footage. It’s about building their personal brand, all about the image, all about the spectacle.”

by Jamie Doward and Alice Gibbs, The Guardian |  Read more: