For most of us, the idea of clinging to the edge of a skyscraper is the stuff of absolute nightmares. But for certain brave daredevils, there’s no feat more exhilarating than scaling the heights of the tallest buildings in the world. Just last month, a British ‘Spiderman’ was arrested in South Korea for climbing one of the world’s highest skyscrapers with his bare hands. Read on as we delve into the fascinating and frightening world of urban climbing…
What is urban climbing?
Urban climbing, or ‘buildering’, is the art and act of climbing on the exterior of buildings and other artificial structures. This is often done without ropes or protection, increasing the dangers and subsequent adrenaline rush associated with this sport. An urban equivalent to rock climbing, buildering allows climbers to experience cities in a completely different way than most of us normally do. While it’s certainly not for the faint of heart, its popularity is on the rise - fuelled by social media engagement, the urban climbing community is growing by the day.
The history of urban climbing
Urban climbing is not a new phenomenon. Its roots begin in the early twentieth century, an era that witnessed Geoffrey Winthrop Young publish "The Roof Climbers Guide to Trinity” - a printed guide to climbing Trinity College buildings in Cambridge, England. The book explained how to scale some of the university’s tallest buildings and explained which routes climbers should take. Buildering also rose to prominence in American cities along with the development of the skyscraper. The most famous of these daredevils was Harry H. Gardiner, nicknamed the Human Fly by President Grover Cleveland, who famously climbed the Detroit News' 12-story Detroit ad building in 1916 before a large lunchtime crowd.
Modern examples of urban climbing
As urban climbing grows increasingly popular, there have been many brave attempts in the modern era to scale some of the tallest buildings in the world:
● In the 1980s, Dan Goodwin (or ‘SpiderDan’) ascended several buildings across America, such as the World Trade Centre in New York and the John Hancock Centre and Willis Tower in Chicago.
● Alain Robert, from France, is widely regarded as the world’s greatest urban climber. Known for ‘free-soloing’ buildings, a term for climbing without the aid of ropes or other equipment, Robert has climbed some of the tallest buildings and skyscrapers in the world. These have included the Burj Khalifa, Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and Taipei 101.
● In 2022, two young climbers scaled the Montparnasse in France to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. After climbing the tallest building in the country, they unfurled the Ukrainian flag to protest Russian military actions.
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