Urban Exploration – Urbex

Exhibit by: Corey Nina

Urban Exploration: A Sub-Culture

Urban exploration, also known as Urbex, is the process of exploring uninhabited locations that most people normally would not want to go in exchange for a thrill-seeking experience that many crave. Caves, catacombs, secret undergrounds, storm drains, utility tunnels, abandoned building, and ghost towns are just some of the sites that urban explorers seek (Urban Explorers, 1997-2015). Many enjoy the process of exploration as a form of an adrenaline rush. In other words, they find pleasure in seeking the unknown and the exciting rush that comes with it.

Urban exploration is considered a sub- culture, which is a group of people that separate themselves from a larger culture. Urban explorers are similar to archaeologists in a sense that both groups enjoy the process of exploration in search of discovery. Unlike archeologists, urban explorers do not need academic discipline. In other words, there is no education or license required for urban exploration.  Therefore urban exploration is not considered a legal activity.

Trouble with the Police

Urban explorers tend to get in trouble with the law enforcers. There is a divide between the perspectives of the law enforcers versus that of urban explorers. On one side of the spectrum, the police officers think that urban explorers are trouble makers creating problems for the society. On the opposite end, the urban explorers insist that they are not breaking any law. Who is right and who is wrong?  Below is a clip of an urban exploration that was stopped by the British officers.

Urban Exploration and Danger

People outside of the urban exploration community think that urban explorers are all just loiterers. In contrast, this is not true. Urban explorers take their explorations seriously. The urban explorers place themselves at high risks. For example, they may face falling rooftops, collapsed floors, unpleasant odors and chemicals, and other dangerous scenarios (Urban Explorers, 1997-2015).

tunnel 3

A picture of a sewer under the London Bridge.

Hence, there are precautions and safety rules that they must follow in order to protect themselves from the heart of danger. For example, they will screen their environments carefully and use their common senses. Along with that, most experienced and serious urban explorers will always carry with them equipments that will help them during the exploration including: light, gloves, batteries, and a knife just to name a few (Urban Explorers, 1997-2015). Urban explorers follow a list of rules in order to ensue that their safety is at the top of the list, while still able to enjoy their hobbies.

tourists with backpacks

Backpacks Containing Essential Equipments for the Exploration


Batteries, Gloves, A Knife, A Flashlight


Urban exploring is very dangerous and illegal most of the time. A person is taking a deep risk with his life when he chooses to do urban exploring. People can severely hurt themselves, get arrested for trespassing, or die. It’s still very dangerous even if you’re prepared for it, for example a young man and woman decided to break into Michigan Central Station to explore it, while trying to break a basement window the man accidentally fell down a 40 foot fall onto the ground. The good news is that he lived and was rescued by police officers. Another example is of a girl who was 19 years old found dead in Odessa’s catacombs after two years of being missing. A lot of young people like to party under the catacombs in Odessa, which are made up of about 1,500 miles of subterranean tunnels. The girl supposedly got drunk and then lost in the catacombs where she starved to death. People who want to urban explore need to know that their life is on the line and they should be careful of what places to explore.

Urban Exploration and Technology

With the prospering of technology, the urban exploration society is able to spread its mission through the process of sharing experiences and photography on the Internet via blogs and forums. While sharing stories of incredible exploration, the urban explorers have to keep their identities unknown fearing that they could get charge for breaking laws such as, trespassing in private properties. Along with that, television plays a major role in introducing urban exploration to the audience. For example, Travel Channel aired a series of urban explorations on its network showcasing ghost hunting journeys, exploring unknown places, and taking on challenges that a normal person would not do. The media also helped spread Urbex in forms of documentary.  Many urban explorers enjoy filming their experiences, and sharing their stories to others who embraced the same interest.

Examples of International Urban Exploration Sites


Prison H15

Prison H15

An abandoned prison in France. It was built with sand stone and brick and could hold up to 1500 inmates. The building was a Cistercian monastery in the early 1200’s, but during the French Revolution it was nationalized. When it became a prison it was modified, so it could hold more prisoners through the years. Since change in penitentiary systems the prison has been closed since 2011. In the photos you can see that the building has been slowly decaying overtime. This prison is really popular to urban explorers and photographers.


Death row

Steve Duncan

He is an urban explorer and a photographer. He is famous for exploring the sewers and the tunnels of New York. Below is a documentary video of his experience, while exploring the underground of New Your City.

Lost rivers of London

There are many rivers in London that have been forgotten over time. Most all of these are under ground. A couple of urban explorers traveled underground to see these hidden rivers. This type of exploration was a dangerous one, because the explorers were actually walking underneath a running river.


This picture is from a storm drain that was once the Westbourne River in London.

tunnel 2

A picture of another storm drain that was once the Fleet River in London.

The Shard

The Shard is a building in London, also referred as The Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and formerly London Bridge Tower. It is an 87 story skyscraper and the biggest skyscraper in London. In 2011 when the shard was still in development. A group of urban explorers wanted to go on top of the Shard. They had to sneak past security and risking their lives by climbing on dangerous equipment. Also in this group was the famous urban explorer Bradley L. Garrett. He was one of the photographers in this group and took amazing photos of the group on top of the Shard.


Bradley L. Garrett is a photographer, researcher and explorer. He’s with the group of urban explorers called London Consolidation Crew (LCC). He has also authored a book called “Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City.”


The Shard in development.


Here’s a photo of Bradley L. Garrett looking at London on top of the Shard.

Palace Theater 1

The Palace Theater

The Palace Theater

In Gary Indiana there is an abandoned theater called the Palace Theater. The theater opened up in 1925 and was around for 50 years, but because of crime and financial problems the theater had to shut down. It’s been abandoned for 40 years and the theater has now fallen victim to urban decay. A lot of urban explorers like to visit the theater and take photographs of the decaying Theater. It is a very interesting building and has history, so it is a great spot for urban explorers.

the palace Theater

The inside of the Palace Theater

The Shanghai Tower

The Shanghai Tower is a skyscraper in Pudong, China. The tower is 128 floors and 630 meters and it is one of the biggest towers in Pudong.  At the time the building was in development, two urban explorers decided to climb on top. Both of urban explorers climbed the building without rope or harness. They made a video on YouTube of their climb. The climb was very dangerous, but the images that from this climb were very beautiful.

A linked video illustrates the process of an urban exploration of the Shanghai Tower:

Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower the 100th floor

Man climbing Shanghai Tower

Urban Exploration of the Shanghai Tower


Gunkanjima is an abandoned City Island 9 miles from the city Nagasaki, in southern Japan.  Gunkanjima means Battleship Island. The city was started because of coal that was discovered undersea and was abandoned in 1974 because of petroleum was replacing coal. This caused people to lose their jobs and consequently move off the island. Now the island is falling apart and is a tourist attraction for people, especially urban explorers. Urban explorers who live on the dangerous side would simply hire a boat and explore the island by themselves.

Gunkanjima map 1

Gunkanjima’s Map

Gunkanjima map 2


Gunkanjima map 3

Old apartments in Gunkanjima

Urban Exploration and the Cities

Urban exploration is an international concept. It affects the people of  the cities around the world, because urban explorers create many conflicts. In exchange for their interests in exploration, sometimes urban explorers will put themselves in situations where they will get in trouble with the law. Urban explorers can get fine, or charge with breaking and entering if they are not careful. Outsiders think that urban explorers are causing troubles and putting themselves in danger for unnecessary reasons. Despite the two opposing perspectives of urban exploration, one cannot deny the fact that urban exploration is a sub-culture that is spreading globally.


Urban Explorers. (1997-2015). Retrieved from Urban Explorers: http://www.urbanexplorers.net/

Duncan, Steve. Fleet River in London. Digital image. Barcroft Media, July 2012. Web. 3 May 2015.

Duncan, Steve. A sewer under London Bridge. Digital image. Barcroft Media, July 2012. Web. 3 May 2015.

Duncan, Steve. Westbourne River in London. Digital image. Barcroft Media, July 2012. Web. 3 May 2015.

Garrett, Bradley L. “Climbing a Shard of Glass.” Place Hacking RSS. N.p., 7 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.

Garrett, Bradley L. Don’t Trip. Digital image. Place Hacking. N.p., 7 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.

Garrett, Bradley L. Sacking Olympus. Digital image. Place Hacking. N.p., 7 Apr. 2012. Web. 4 May 2015.

Garrett, Bradley L. Sky Ladder. Digital image. Place Hacking. N.p., 07 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.

Garrett, Bradley L. Trigger. Digital image. Place Hacking. N.p., 7 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 May 2015.

Gakuran, Michael. “Gunkanjima: Ruins of a Forbidden Island – Gakuranman.” Gakuranman RSS. N.p., 28 June 2010. Web. 16 May 2015.

Gakuran, Michael. Old apartments in Gunkanjima. Digital image. Http://gakuran.com/. N.p., 28 June 2010. Web. 16 May 2015.

Makhorov, Vadim, and Vitaliy Raskalov. Ontheroofs.com. Digital image. Ontheroofs.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 16 May 2015.

Makhorov, Vadim, and Vitaliy Raskalov. Shanghai Tower the 100th floor. Digital image. Ontheroofs.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 16 May 2015.

Newkirk, Greg. “Explorers Make Gruesome Discovery inside Odessa Catacombs.” Week In Weird. N.p., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 May 2015.

Kay, Andy. “Prison H15, France.” Behind Closed Doors Urbex. Behind Closed Doors Urbex, 2014. Web. 01 May 2015.

Reporter, Daily Mail. “A Tale of Two Underground Cities: Urban Explorer’s Stunning Photographs of the Subways and Sewers of New York and London.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 24 July 2012. Web. 4 May 2015.

Talling, Paul. “London’s Lost Rivers – River Westbourne.” London’s Lost Rivers. London’s Lost Rivers, n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.

“The Palace Theater of Gary, Indiana.” Sometimes Interesting. N.p., 19 June 2013. Web. 16 May 2015.

SHANGHAI. “Where Were You While We Were Getting High?” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 May 2015.

Woods, Ashley C. “Seasoned Urban Explorer Discusses Wednesday’s Rescue at Michigan Central Station.” Mlive. N.p., 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 May 2015.

Young Crazy Fool. Death Row. Digital image. N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 May 2015.

Young Crazy Fool. Prison H15. Digital image. N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 May 2015.

Young Crazy Fool. A prison room. Digital image. N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 May 2015.