I was stoked to see a class being taught at Harvard this summer inspired by A Burglar’s Guide to the City. Called “(Don’t) Steal this Painting: A Burglar’s Guide to the Museum,” the course is led by Matthew Battles. It’s only open to Harvard students, alas, but if that accurately describes you then give it a shot.
I’m finally back from several weeks of travel and wanted to post some recent news I was particularly thrilled about: my book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, is being developed for television by CBS Studios. From Variety:
The drama, which landed a put pilot commitment, hails from writer Paul Grellong (“Scorpion,” “Revolution”) and exec producers Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Danielle Woodrow, and Justin Lin, who is attached to direct the pilot.
A Burglar’s Guide to the City follows a team of modern-day Robin Hoods, led by a brilliant architect with a troubled past, that uses their unique skills to gain access to any stronghold in order to steal from rich criminals and give to those that have been wronged by a corrupt system.
The potential series is based on Geoff Manaugh’s non-fiction book. Manaugh, repped by Manage-ment and Marc Van Arx, will serve as a consulting producer on the TV project. Nate Miller and Dan Halsted of Manage-ment are also producing, along with Aaron Baiers of Secret Hideout.
I can’t say more about the show at this point, other than to point out that I am absolutely, genuinely over the moon about this, but I am very much looking forward to bringing burglary and architecture to a small screen near you…
If you haven’t checked out the book, meanwhile, consider picking up a copy; many reviews and blurbs can also be found at burglarsguide.com.
For anyone near London next week, I’m looking forward to speaking with Rory Hyde, curator of contemporary architecture and urbanism at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on Monday night, September 26th. We’ll be discussing infrastructural vulnerabilities, subterranean heists, electromagnetic getaways, ubiquitous police surveillance, and many other topics found in A Burglar’s Guide to the City.
Stop by—and join us for drinks afterward to continue the conversation.
If you’re near Denver, I’m excited to be doing an event there next week with novelist Nick Arvin. Arvin, you might recall, was previously interviewed here on BLDGBLOG about his novel The Reconstructionist, including Arvin’s previous, real-life job simulating car crashes for the insurance industry.
You can check-in on Facebook—although no RSVP is required—and the only fee is general admission to the museum ($2.50). Hope to see you there!
Just a quick reminder that, if you’re in Chicago this Friday, May 27th, Iker Gil, editor-in-chief of MAS Context, and I will be discussing A Burglar’s Guide to the City. We’ll be in the brand new event space inside Studio Gang’s newly renovated offices, the former Polish National Alliance Building on Division Street. The event is co-sponsored by the Seminary Co-Op bookstore, who will also be selling copies of the book. Issues of MAS Context will also be sale.
Stop by to learn about super-tools of architectural breaking & entering, from lock picks to burning bars, about abstract geometric shapes visible only to lawyers enclosing domestic space against the threat of burglary, and about the most prolific bank-robbing crew of the 19th-century—led by a man who trained as an architect—among many other points of discussion.
Things kick off at 6pm, at 1520 W. Division Street. Hope to see you there!
[Image: Flying with the LAPD; photo by BLDGBLOG].
Just a quick heads up about three more Burglar’s Guide-related events coming up this month:
Monday, May 9th, AIA Center for Architecture, New York City—I’ll be speaking with fellow crime-enthusiast Tom Vanderbilt about various themes explored in the book, from lock picking and police helicopter flights over Los Angeles to security vulnerabilities hidden in a city’s fire code. Vanderbilt himself has a new book of his own out next week, called You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, and he is also the author of Traffic and Survival City. Things kick off at 6pm. RSVP at the Center for Architecture. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore.
Wednesday, May 18th, National Building Museum, Washington D.C.—Stop by the National Building Museum to watch clips from heist films, and to discuss the art of the getaway route, a typology of burglar’s tools, and much more. I’ll be introducing films, from Rififi to The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England, and speaking with Ross Andersen, senior editor of The Atlantic, for a full evening of crime and the city. Things begin at 6:30pm. Pick up a ticket from the National Building Museum website.
Friday, May 27th, Studio Gang, Chicago—Iker Gil, editor-in-chief of MAS Context, will be moderating a lively conversation about A Burglar’s Guide to the City in the newly renovated office space of Jeanne Gang’s Chicago architecture firm, Studio Gang, winner of the 2016 Architect of the Year Award from The Architectural Review. Books will be for sale courtesy of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore.
Stop by any (or all!) if you’re nearby, and be sure to say hello.
The west coast leg of the book tour for A Burglar’s Guide to the City is coming to an end. I wanted to give readers near Portland and Seattle a quick heads up about events in those cities this week, in case you might be looking for something to do.
Stop by Powell’s tomorrow night—Tuesday, the 3rd, at 7:30—or Town Hall Seattle on Thursday night, May 5th, also at 7:30, to pick up a signed copy and to hear some stories from the book, from an unsolved subterranean bank heist in 1980s Los Angeles to the design war going on between the tools of breaking & entering and architectural fortification.
If you’re on the fence about reading the thing, meanwhile, check out Alex Bozikovic’s great review for The Globe and Mail. Bozikovic thinks A Burglar’s Guide to the City “gives the realm of architecture the kinetic thrills of a heist film.”
Alternatively, Marc Weingarten of The Guardian has an enthusiastic look at the book, as well. He writes that the Burglar’s Guide “locates the spot where architecture and crime intersect. It’s the dark side of urbanist Jane Jacobs’s 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, depicting the city and its environs as incubator for uncivil activity.”
The Atlantic’s CityLab has also discussed the book, as has Boing Boing, in a fantastic review by Cory Doctorow.Many more media links can also be found either here on BLDGBLOG or over at burglarsguide.com.
Of course, I know it’s not hugely compelling to hear an author touting a new book over and over again! It’s like sitting through an infomercial you didn’t intend to tune to. But I’m not only thrilled the book is finally out there, after having worked on it for the past three years; I’d also love to say hello to any BLDGBLOG readers who might be out there while I’m on the road.
At long last, after more than three years of research and travel, A Burglar’s Guide to the City is finally shipping.
It is a book about crime, policing, and the built environment, and how these forces mutually influence one another, from ancient Rome to contemporary Los Angeles, with a specific focus on the spatial peculiarities of breaking and entering.
I’ve already posted about the book at some length here on the blog—with many more posts available under the Burglar’s Guide tag—and there is also a standalone website worth checking out, as well, with links to reviews, book tour information, and some great blurbs.
However, for now, especially if this is the first you’ve heard of it, consider checking out an excerpt from the book over at The New York Times Magazine, an author profile over at the Wall Street Journal, a short segment about burglary and Los Angeles on NPR’s Marketplace, or a great review published in the Los Angeles Times.
There, Annalee Newitz writes that, “Despite its title, Geoff Manaugh’s A Burglar’s Guide to the City won’t teach you how to break into houses. It won’t help you outsmart wily cat burglars with ingenious home alarm systems, either. Instead, it explores something a lot weirder and more interesting: Manaugh argues that burglary is built into the fabric of cities and is an inevitable outgrowth of having architecture in the first place.”
Writing for the Barnes & Noble Review, meanwhile, Sarah Weinman—editor of the recent collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s—said that, after reading the book, “my worldview is altered a little bit more, and far for the better, as a result.” Patrick Lyons at VICE found the book “an exhilarating, perspective-shifting read,” and the BBC recommended it as one of their “Ten books to read in April,” calling it “a surprising and fascinating true-crime epic.”
Most fun of all was doing an interview with Gastropod—a podcast about food, science, and history cohosted by my wife, Nicola Twilley, and journalist Cynthia Graber—discussing food heists, potato bombs, fast-food burglaries, and much more.
Amazon chose A Burglar’s Guide as one of their “Best Books of April 2016,” adding that it is a “caper of a book.” *Update: I also got to speak about the book with Curbed for their recently launched podcast, on “why panic rooms are going to outlast the pyramids.”
In any case, I’d be over the moon if you picked up a copy, and I would love to discuss the book’s many ideas—and people and tools and scenes and histories—in more detail here. However, I’m also aware that I can’t just post about this book over and over—and over—again, so I’ll also get back to regular blogging soon.
Thanks! And enjoy the book.
[Image: Flying with the LAPD Air Support Division; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
Over the past three years, I’ve gone on multiple flights with the LAPD Air Support Division, during both the day and night; my goal was to understand how police see the city from above.
[Image: Freeways and escape routes; Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
Does the aerial view afford new insights into how distant neighborhoods are connected, for example, or how criminals might attempt to hide—or flee—from police oversight? Where are these other, illicit routes and refuges?
More importantly, are they temporary accidents of criminal behavior and urban geography, or are they much deeper flaws and vulnerabilities hidden in the city’s very design?
[Images: Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
Aerial patrols seems to promise a ubiquitous, and near-omniscient, amplification of police vision, even as the fabric of the city itself is put to alternative use by the activities of criminals.
I documented these flights through hundreds of photographs—many of which can be seen here—as well as in my forthcoming book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City.
However, an excerpt of that book has also been adapted for this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, including a look at Thomas More’s Utopia in the context of the LAPD, the navigational “rules of four,” and a look at the array of technical devices installed aboard each police helicopter.
[Images: Inside the airship; Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
The “rules of four,” for example, as I write in the piece, are “guidelines [that] fall somewhere between a rule of thumb and an algorithm, and they allow for nearly instantaneous yet accurate aerial navigation.”
“The way the parcels work in the city of Los Angeles,” [LAPD Chief Tactical Flight Officer Cole Burdette explained to me], “is that Main Street and First Street are the hub of the city.” The street numbers radiate outward — by quadrant, east, west, north, south — with blocks advancing by hundreds (the 3800 block below 38th Street) and building numbers advancing by fours (3804, 3808, 3812, etc.). The rest is arithmetic.
With the rules of four, an otherwise intimidating and uncontrollable knot of streets takes on newfound clarity. It is no coincidence that the Los Angeles Police Department built its main headquarters at the center of it all, at the intersection of First and Main. It placed the department at the numerological heart of the metropolis, the zero point from which everything else emanates.
What fascinates me through all of this is how the city can be used as a tool of police authority, a seemingly endless crystalline grid of numbers and addresses continually re-scanned from above by helicopter—
[Image: Watchers; photo by BLDGBLOG].
—yet, at the same time, the city can also be manipulated from below, against those same figures of aerial power, becoming an instrument of criminal evasion and spatial camouflage.
[Image: Night flight across the grid; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
The very notion of the “getaway route” is revealing here for what it implies about a city’s secondary use as a means of escape, offering hidden lines of flight from figures of authority.
In the book, I explore this a bit more through, among other things, the work of Grégoire Chamayou, including his research into the history of manhunts and his brief look at the speculative re-design of Paris as a kind of immersive police catalog in which “every move will be recorded.”
[Image: Over Porter Ranch and the San Fernando Valley; photos by BLDGBLOG].
Paris, Chamayou writes, “was to be divided into distinct districts, each receiving a letter, and each being subdivided into smaller sub-districts.”
In each sub-district each street had accordingly to receive a specific name. On each street, each house had to receive a number, engraved on the front house—which was not the case at the time. Each floor of each building was also to have a number engraved on the wall. On each floor, each door should be identified with a letter. Every horse car should also bear a number plate. In short, the whole city was to be reorganized according to the principles of a rationalized addressing system.
In that context, the Air Support Division’s “rules of four” as a police-navigation strategy take on a particularly interesting nuance—as do hypothetical means of resistance to police power through the deliberate complication of local addressing systems.
[Images: Moving maps and binoculars over L.A.; Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
The book excerpt in the Times also briefly picks up on some themes elaborated in an article I wrote for Cabinet Magazine a few years ago, discussing how the infrastructure of Los Angeles itself inadvertently permits certain classes of criminal activity.
[Image: Night flying; photo by BLDGBLOG].
The most obvious example of this unintended side-effect of transportation planning is the so-called “stop-and-rob.” From The New York Times Magazine:
The construction of the city’s freeway system in the 1960s helped to instigate a later spike in bank-crime activity by offering easy getaways from financial institutions constructed at the confluence of on-ramps and offramps. This is a convenient location for busy commuters—but also for prospective bandits, who can pull off the freeway, rob a bank and get back on the freeway practically before the police have been alerted. The maneuver became so common in the 1990s that the Los Angeles police have a name for it: a “stop-and-rob.”
In any case, the book obviously elaborates on these themes in much greater length—and it comes out next week, so please consider pre-ordering a copy—but The New York Times Magazine excerpt is a great place to start.
[Image: Somewhere over the San Fernando Valley; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
Meanwhile, if you yourself are planning any illicit activities, as an added bonus the article includes insights from Air Support Division pilots and tactical flight officers on the limitations of their own surveillance techniques, such as how the streets around Los Angeles International Airport have become a popular hiding spot for criminals fleeing police helicopters by car and some especially unlikely tactics used to evade thermal detection by the LAPD’s Forward-Looking Infrared or FLIR cameras.
When in doubt—although this is not mentioned in the article—drive into the fog, where the helicopters can’t follow you.
[Image: Urban horizon lines; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
For now, here are a bunch of photos, including many Instagrams, taken from July 2013 to March 2016, including night flights in January 2014 and March 2016—
[Images: Night from above; photos & Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
—as well as day and early evening flights taken in July 2013 and March 2016.
[Images: Note the shot of Watts Towers; Instagrams by BLDGBLOG].
Finally, a chunk of non-Instagram shots, in case those colored filters are making your eyes cross over.
[Images: Photos by BLDGBLOG, many featuring a home barricade call in Pacoima].
[Image: Sunset approaching downtown L.A.; cropped Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
For the past several years, I’ve been writing a book about the relationship between burglary and architecture. Burglary, as it happens, requires architecture: it is a spatial crime. Without buildings, burglary, in its current legal form, could not exist. Committing it requires an inside and an outside; it’s impossible without boundaries, thresholds, windows, and walls. In fact, one needn’t steal anything at all to be a burglar. In a sense, as a crime, it is part of the built environment; the design of any structure always implies a way to break into it.
You can see burglary’s architectural connections anywhere. Watch nearly any heist film, for example, and at some point there will be an architectural discussion: inevitably, the characters will point at floor plans or lean in close to study maps, arguing over how to get from one room to another, whether or not two buildings might actually be connected, or how otherwise separate spaces and structures—sometimes whole neighborhoods—might be secretly knit together. Seen this way, heists are the most architectural genre of all.
[Image: “How The Burglar Gets Into Your House” (1903), via The Saint Paul Globe].
When a burglary is committed in the real world, you often see stunned business owners stammering to morning TV crews about how strange the burglars’ method of entry was. They came in through the walls or jumped down through a hole in the ceiling—or crawled in through a drop-off chute—rather than going through the front door as the rest of us would, never using buildings the way they’re supposed to be used.
I’m strangely thrilled to see it’s been categorized as “Architecture/True Crime.”
[Image: The complete front/back cover for A Burglar’s Guide to the City, designed by Nayon Cho].
Researching A Burglar’s Guide to the City has been a fascinating process—not to mention an incredible experience. It took me up into the sky over Los Angeles with the LAPD Air Support Division to learn how police see the city, out to visit a lock-picking group in northwest Chicago to pop open some padlocks and understand the limitations of physical security, and into the heavily fortified modular “panic rooms” designed by a retired New Jersey cop.
I spoke with a Toronto burglar who learned to use his city’s fire code as a targeting mechanism for future burglaries; I talked to the woman who arrested a kind of live-in burglar nicknamed “Roofman” who, incredibly, built a fake apartment for himself inside the walls of a Toys “R” Us; and I met the retired FBI Special Agent once tasked with tracking down a crew of subterranean bank bandits who pulled off a still-unsolved bank heist in 1986 Los Angeles, involving weeks of tunneling and a detailed knowledge of the the city’s sewer system. I spoke with one of the originators of the UK’s surreal “capture house” program, where entire fake apartments are kitted out and run by the police to trap—or capture—specific burglars, and I even visited the grave of a 19th-century super-burglar who used his training as an architect to lead a crew responsible for an astonishing 80% of all U.S. bank robberies at the time.
[Image: Flying with the LAPD Air Support Division; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].
The book includes tunnel jobs from ancient Rome, a survey of door-breaching tools, an interview with architect Bernard Tschumi about crime and the city, some thoughts on Die Hard, even tips for the ultimate getaway from a reformed bank robber in California, and on and on and on.
Meanwhile, there will be a short book tour this April and May. Keep an eye on burglarsguide.com for more information as it develops, but, for the time being, if you’re anywhere near New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Washington D.C., save the dates to come by and say hello.
The first event will be hosted by the incredible John M. Mossman Lock Collection at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York on Tuesday, April 5, with beer provided by my friends at Sixpoint Brewery and books for sale courtesy of The Strand Book Store. Even better, Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will be leading a live conversation about the book—and the event itself is free, although you must RSVP.
I could go on at great length—and undoubtedly will, in the weeks to come—but, for now, consider pre-ordering a copy of the book. Thanks!
I’ve got a new piece up over at The Daily Beast about London’s Hatton Garden heist—in a sense, a preview of many themes from my forthcoming book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, including the idea that “the tools and techniques of breaking and entering are more often than not also those of architectural construction and maintenance.”