A Burglar's Guide to the City: burglary as architectural criticism

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Devil in the White City taught me that I already find architecture and urban planning a lot more interesting than true crime. “Yes, yes, Holmes was a horrible person. I’ve got it; glad he’s dead. Now can we please go back to discussing how you build skyscrapers on a bed of clay?”


To understand anything, you have to grasp its modes of failure. I get that, and this book sounds like a pretty interesting take on when one of the main functions of a building fails.

So the book really isn’t about theft so much as its about tangible structures. I think I’d rather know more about the kind of white collar theft that’s brought the economy to a crawl, and the kind of intangible structures that seem helpless to stop such theft.

Even if a building can’t keep out intruders, it can still keep the rain off your head and maybe a bubble of warm air around you. But if a bank can’t keep grabby hands out of the cookie jar, what other purpose can it possibly serve?

An amusement park, a prison, and a hospital all have distinct passages for the clients versus the employees. That makes them really interesting to study, just walking around the clients side, and seeing where the alternate routes intersect. Something similar is going on at an airport, many different flows intersecting in a way that has to make sense at some level.

So I imagine it must be like with the invisible city of connections that allows complicated things to happen. But I’m just a client, and the real users of the system have no interest in showing clients how they move through it. That’s the book I really need to read, and I’m not alone in that.


I can’t say why, but this weirdly reminds me of the cutscenes in the game Thief. When I was younger my cousins and I played the game and we would try sneaking around my granparents’ courtyard and climbing into windows. It’s been years, but I still remember which walls are scalable, windows unbarred, walls spiked with glass, and all of these were quirks of the particular architecture of houses in Amman, Jordan. I’m surprised none of us busted our heads. My cousin learned a way to used a couple of barred windows to get up to and down from the second-story roof. My cousins and I were basically engaged in hide and seek games of parkour before we knew it was a thing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some nostalgia gaming to do:


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