Beyond Words - Language Blog

Are You into Buildering? Urban Exploration Introduces Some New English Words

The English lexicon is constantly growing. Urban Exploration, it seems, is the next frontier.

What happens if you’re interested in an activity including extreme heights, technical skill, and strength and endurance but you don’t live near glaciers, mountains, or rock wall cliffs? What if you live in the middle of the city, surrounded by skyscrapers and manholes and taxi cabs, and you want a taste of adventure and the great outdoors? For some, the option is to domesticate, to find a park to run in or ride a bicycle around town. For others, though, a simple compromise is possible—turn the urban environment into an extreme environment, scale buildings and spelunk down underground pipes.

The sport is broadly referred to as Urban Exploration or urbex or UE for short. Defined by James Lester as a sport that explores the “off-limits or seldom seen parts of man-made structures,” urban exploration is also widely categorized by the desire to “[examine] and [understand] the inner workings of our constructed world, of seeing civic society in its real, raw, unpainted, unplastered and unprettied state.” In that sense, the sport is also referred to as infiltration—although the connotation is often that of exploring an “active” or inhabited site as opposed to an abandoned building or one in construction.

Urbex is composed of various activities—most with their own code name—such as draining, urban spelunking, urban caving, building hacking, and buildering. Draining is the act of exploring underground cement tunnels intended to transport storm water (as opposed to human waste). Catacomb exploration falls under the category of draining as well. Urban spelunking and urban caving, of course, fall under the definition of draining.

Building hacking, as the name suggests, refers to entering a building, either abandoned or inhabited. The buildings are generally abandoned and in some sort of decay, or sometimes in the process of being built—urbex does not advocate the breaking and entering of a business or home. Buildering, on the other hand, specifically refers to the act of climbing on the outside of a building or a structure.

Linguistically, buildering is a portmanteau created by combining building and bouldering. Done without ropes, buildering is extremely dangerous, although some attempt free soloing where “the climber (the free soloist) forgoes ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending and relies only on his or her physical strength, climbing ability, and psychological fortitude to avoid a fatal fall.” The sport can be traced back to Cambridge University where students would regularly scramble up the roofs of campus buildings. In the 1890s, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, a student at Cambridge, wrote a treatise of building climbing, and the activity is usually traced back to him.

For examples of urbex, visit Urbex.org

Photo by Paulhitz