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    Hacking Architecture | Inside Steven Holl

    By BuildingSatire
    Dec 16, '12 1:49 PM EST

    Now, most of us have stories of pictures taken in the McQueen Exhibit when there was strictly no photography, of backpacks lugged to spend the day as a Cooper Union student, or even of scaffolding climbed at 3AM just to sit on the cold steel frame of the 9/11 site. For those of you who lack such stories, what’s wrong with you? I’m here to share with you a few tips on what I call hacking architecture.

    It’s hard to have a valid opinion about an architecture without ever having been in its space. Most recently, I finagled my way into Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid, a music download in the world of hacking. I’d had mixed feelings about the project, but my opinion became clearer after spending some time in it, naturally. So how does one “sneak” into architecture you ask? Once you realize, “I’m an architecture student” won’t get you anywhere, try these tips to help hack architecture, perhaps some you already know.

    Take a minute to look over some plans, figure out where all the entrances are, pre-visit the site if necessary. Then gather data to understand how the facility normally operates, operating hours, holidays, etc. At the Linked Hybrid we found a woman walking her child and asked her what it was like to live in the facility and how the amenities were inside and along the over-sized bridges. We were discouraged to hear that even the tenants were not invited to use the recreational facilities (unless a steep price was paid. Sorry Holl — just another architectural idea beat by capitalism). This meant asking a tenant to let us in or telling the guard we forgot something upstairs wouldn't get us where we wanted to go. Eventually we found a housing agency on site and our deception began.

    Dress the Part
    My fellow hackers and I understood the complex was for high income tenants. Therefore, we dressed as if we might afford a 25,000 RMB three-bedroom apartment. After a few minutes of standing around asking questions and pointing to pictures of rooms, a guide for the agency came by to gauge our interest. We spoke confidently and clearly in a language he obviously didn't understand, so we motioned for his business card, things got serious and we were in.

    In the occasion your desired destination is under construction, try borrowing a hard hat and reflector vest from your fellow CM student and choose a good time to visit the site (if you can’t find him, he’s probably that guy doing beer bongs outside your ARCH-E class). Try to visit the site once the site manager has left but there are still construction workers lingering, this way you’ll fit in but won’t come across any consequential suspicion – aim for lunch breaks and happy hour. If someone asks who you are, say something vague and indisputable like, “Emilio sent me, said to meet him here by the ______.” Then kindly ask if you can spend a few minutes to look for Emilio and that you’ll be out of his hair if you can’t find him in ten minutes. Most likely he’ll let you roam around and lose interest when you've gone from his sight. Avoid backpacks as often as possible, they’re tacky and it gives the impression you’re a student or a hippie backpacker with all the connotations of dirty, smelly, and poor. Kidding, not really — but they will slow you down – mechanically if you’re attempting an escape, and bureaucratically if you have to pass through security, x-ray, bag check, etc.

    Keep Your Head Up
    In addition to a physical “disguise” your demeanor is key. Acting like you belong can often take you a long ways. I will always remember asking a theatre attendant where the next showing of a movie was without a ticket, they called two others over including a supervisor who jokingly asked, “can I see your ticket?” Afterward he escorted a friend and me to a free movie. No sneaking necessary.

    At Holl, we took pretentiousness to a new high. Some of us could speak Chinese, but we avoided it knowing it would do us more harm than good. So we spoke English the entire time and commented and touched everything (as Americans do…). We asked questions like what the minimum contract period to rent was, what amenities they offered, etc. After thoroughly inspecting the room, we asked about exercise facilities, where we might hold dinner parties, etc. Sixty-percent of this was done as one might play charades. This eventually led to us asking if we could enter the links of the hybrid, a request that was met with much apprehension – but we had ourselves covered by priming the guide with kindness.

    Be Kind
    Although you might find yourself feigning opulence, there’s no reason to go overboard — because when it comes down to it, people have to like you. The first thing we did was ask the tour guide’s name and how long he had been working with the agency. This can also give you an idea about how much you can get away with without the guy calling his supervisor. As mentioned earlier we asked for his business card, this is probably best done before making requests. And lastly, smile – don’t discount the act of showing a few teeth, dogs do this to get their way, it’ll work for you too.


    • Thank you for this. I love seeing how people inhabit buildings - those wood chairs and the landscapes in wood frames hanging on the slick glass, so bizarre!

      I've recently learned that a hard hat, a handheld two-way radio, a clipboard, and a purposeful stride will limit how many people are willing to ask if you're allowed to be in there.  Of course, it also helps that I'm 45 and don't look like a student any more.

      I did get into Loos' Miller House by yelling the name of the local Prague architecture school dean up to the non-English-speaking caretaker who leaned out the window when we knocked.  Through total serendipity, the dean was about to show up to the house to give a tour, so the caretaker let us in thinking we were early arrivals to the tour.  We wandered the house both with and without the tour group, then got kicked out by the caretaker when everyone else left and we were still taking photographs. But I did get into every room, touched all the marble, breathed the of my best architectural experiences of a lifetime.

      Dec 20, 12 5:03 pm  · 

      Great Post!  I've done this so many times, though I don't think I ever truly "planned" it the way you have.  The last one I used my 4 yr old to get to the top of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.  Somehow we ended up in a Law office conference room with the most incredible view.  They even gave him a paper model of the building!!

      Jan 6, 13 1:23 am  · 

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