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.
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.
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.
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.”
[Image: Published in the New York Tribune, September 11, 1910].
Someday I’d like to write a book about the architectural side of burglary—bank heists, home invasions, jewelry thefts, wall-scaling girl gangs of the Global South, trans-metropolitan tunnels dug vault-to-vault through crypts by men with names like Terry Leather, smoke & mirrors, props and decoys, CCTV control rooms, lock-pickers’ guides, hourly updated routes of gold trucks leaving Manhattan, deterritorialized histories of the getaway car, impersonations and forgeries, spatial camouflage, criminal blueprints and future dream-technologies of the ultimate break-in—all in the name of looking at buildings, and the city itself, as puzzles, spatial systems you try very hard to get into. The well-guarded entrance and its multiple delays. Kafka meets HSBC.
Perhaps an Architectural Guide to the Ultimate Bank Heist—a 108-page pamphlet of speculative break-ins—or Pamphlet Architecture #31, in which incomprehensible robberies are outlined, complete with floorplans and renderings, or even next year’s best-selling stocking stuffer, a quasi-sequel to 15 Lombard Street, the BLDGBLOG Field Guide to Robbery. Illustrated by eBoy.
Until then, I’ll just post images like this one, above, originally published in the New York Tribune on September 11, 1910, in which gangs of silent-airplane enthusiasts raid the metropolis from above. They coast down onto moonlit roofs while unsuspecting homeowners sleep soundly in the comfort of darkness.
[Image: The cover and a spread from 15 Lombard St. by Janice Kerbel].
15 Lombard St. is a book by artist Janice Kerbel, published back in 2000. It presents itself as “a rigorously researched masterplan of how to rob a particular bank in the City of London.”
By observing the daily routine in and around the bank, Kerbel reveals the most detailed security measures such as: the exact route and time of money transportation; the location of CCTV cameras in and around the bank along with precise floor plans that mark the building’s blind spots.
Kerbel’s meticulous plans include every possible detail required to commit the perfect crime.
The book was pointed out to me by Sans façon in relation to an earlier post here on BLDGBLOG about the city re-seen as a labyrinth of possible robberies and heists that have yet to be committed – a geography of tunnels yet to be dug and vaults yet to be emptied.
But is there a literary genre of the crime plan? An attack or robbery outlined in its every detail. Is this fiction, or some new form of illicit literature, detailing speculative and unrealized crimes hidden in the city around us? Is robbing a building just another type of architectural analysis? Or does one put such a thing into the category of counter-geography – a minor cartography, a rogue map? Or perhaps radical cartography, as the saying now goes? Would there be an impulse toward censorship here?
There’s a fascinating series of interviews waiting to be done here with people who work in building security – how a building is deliberately built to anticipate later actions. Or, should we say: how a building is built to contain the impulse toward certain, more radical uses.
When the burglars get to this door, they’ll become frustrated and will try to break through the nearby window, instead – so we must reinforce this window and put a camera nearby.
The building has within it certain very specific possible crimes, the way this house contained a “puzzle.” I’m reminded of the famous Bernard Tschumi line, and I’m paraphrasing: Sometimes to fully appreciate a work of architecture you have to commit a crime.
Architectural space becomes something like an anticipatory narrative – the exact size and shape of a future heist, nullified. It outlines future crimes the way a highway outlines routes.
(Thanks again to Sans façon for the tip!)
[Image: From The Bank Job].
It occurred to me that you could make a map—a whole book of maps—detailing all possible routes of bank robbery within the underground foundations of a city. What basements to tunnel through, what walls to be hammered down: you make a labyrinth of well-placed incisions and the city is yours. Perforated from below by robbers, it rips to pieces. The city is a maze of unrealized break-ins.
A whole new literary genre could result. Booker Prizes are awarded. You describe, in extraordinary detail, down to timetables and distances, down to personnel and the equipment they would use, how all the banks in your city might someday be robbed. Every issue of The New Yorker, for instance, includes a short, 600-word essay about breaking into a different bank somewhere in Manhattan, one by one, in every neighborhood. Ideas, plans, possibilities. Scenarios. Time Out London does the same.
It soon becomes a topic of regular conversation at dinner parties; parents lull their kids to sleep describing imaginary bank robberies, tales of theft and architectural transgression. Buildings are something to be broken into, the parents whisper. It’s what buildings have inside that’s your goal.