The Perilous Pitfalls of Rooftopping

The thrill-seeking practice of scaling skyscrapers and riskily documenting yourself dangling off narrow ledges might make for Instagram gold, but the urban exploration community is speaking out as young rooftoppers are increasingly plunging to their deaths.

Hong Kong. Photography by Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Centuries after Piranesi sketched Roman ruins and decades after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers, a distinctly 21st-century brand of thrill-seeking urban exploration is scaling new heights. Members of the “rooftopping” subculture climb atop tall buildings—often by trespassing—in order to riskily document themselves clinging to antennae, scrambling up spires, and dangling from narrow ledges. (See model Viki Odintcova’s 2017 video of her leaning from a Dubai skyscraper without safety equipment.) The journey to breathtaking heights can spark an adrenaline rush and the results make for Instagram gold, but young rooftoppers are increasingly plunging to their deaths.

That’s what happened when Remi Lucidi’s body was recently found beside a skyscraper in Hong Kong, where he was last spotted knocking on the window of a 68th-floor penthouse. Friends described Lucidi, a 30-year-old French Army sergeant, as an experienced rooftopper who scaled dizzying heights in London, Bangkok, and Mexico City for the perfect shot. His demise echoes that of Wu Yongning, who became a social media star for his dramatic selfies captured teetering on ledges high above Chinese cities. In late 2017, footage of Wu losing his grip—and falling 60 stories to his death—was shared widely. Early rooftopper Neil Ta called it: three years earlier, he penned an impassioned blog post about how the practice had devolved into a spectacle over who can get the most dangerous pictures. 

Rooftopping is a hot topic in the broader “urban exploration” movement (often shortened to “urbex”), whose members film marginal urban landscapes like dead malls, abandoned theme parks, and disused mental hospitals. Though documentary and educational in nature, the practice comes with its own risks. Prominent urbex group The Proper People meandered across a narrow beam in a former Philadelphia power plant, where large chunks of concrete dangle from ceilings; they’ve also found squatters stripping scrap metal to help fund their drug habits. The videos evoke nostalgia for bygone eras—snapshots of hope lost, humanity’s embrace of throwaway culture, and our morbid curiosity to experience what once was. Perhaps there’s a reason they derisively refer to rooftoppers as “dangle kiddies.”

Harry Gallagher. Image via Instagram/@night.scape
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