What makes people want to scale skyscrapers, and what does it mean for building security?

By Alanna Schubach | December 12, 2016 - 11:59AM 

Justin Casquejo is a New Jersey teenager who has found Instagram fame—and legal trouble—for his vertical thrill-seeking: He has scaled buildings ranging from One World Trade Center to a Weehawken water tower, and taken some heart-stopping selfies standing, and even dangling, from their precipices. 



A photo posted by Human (@livejn) on


A photo posted by Human (@livejn) on


Casquejo was arrested in 2014 for his death-defying visit to 1 WTC, reports PIX 11, but the run-in with police apparently hasn't deterred him. More recently, he posted an image of himself astride a new development over Central Park; last week he turned himself in at a Weehawken police station for questioning about the many climbs chronicled on his Instagram. (We reached out to Casquejo for comment, but he didn't respond.) 

Why they climb

The teenager isn't the first daredevil to scale city skyscrapers. In August, a man named Stephen Rogata used suction cups to ascend the facade of Trump Tower, making it to the 21st floor before police were able to pull him into the building. In a YouTube video, Rogata said he was motivated by the desire to have a private, face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump. 

Back in 2008, two different men climbed the New York Times building on the same day, using the horizontal beams that crisscross the tower's facade. Both seemed to have a political message: One said he wanted to raise awareness about global warming, while the other went before reporters after the incident wearing a shirt that read "Malaria No More. Save the Children." 

But Casquejo, like these friends from Russia and the Ukraine who have climbed the Eiffel Tower and a Cairo pyramid, does not seem to be driven by politics. (One of the friends told Business Insider, "We risk our lives for good shots and cool videos.") The sames goes for perhaps the most famous of building daredevils, Philipp Petit, the Frenchman who traversed a wire strung up between the Twin Towers in 1974, an act immortalized in the documentary Man On Wire.

In a TED talk, Petit spoke about his passion for magic, and how his wire walk transformed the city for him: "All of a sudden the density of the air is no longer the same. Manhattan no longer spreads its infinity. The murmur of the city dissolves into a squall whose chilling power I no longer feel." 

Dealing with the security risks posed by climbers

The feeling of transcendence that Petit describes is powerful, but the ease with which these climbers can access buildings as famous, and ostensibly secure, as the Eiffel Tower and the WTC raises concerns. First, there's the prospect of these daredevils getting injured or worse. Thomas Usztoke, vice president of Douglas Elliman Property Management, says that scaling a building "is highly dangerous, places an unnecessary liability on the building owners and is illegal," and that the first response that anyone who spots these climbers is to "call in city authorities at once." 

From an insurance perspective, Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (fyi, a Brick sponsor) notes that for rental properties, the landlord would likely be protected by his or her liability insurance, should they be sued for a climber's injury or fall. The same goes for co-ops and condos, he adds: Shareholders should be protected by their building's master policy. 

He points out the importance, though, of recognizing "attractive hazards and taking reasonable steps to prevent this." That is, the property managers of NYC towers should consider how to better secure their buildings, making them less easy to trespass and scale. 

And while risk-takers like Casquejo seem to be just seeking a thrill, it's troubling to consider how easily he has broken into residential buildings and landmarks alike. A security expert interviewed by PIX notes, "Buildings have to test their own security protocol. If this kid could go in there... without, obviously, anyone stopping him, others with perhaps more nefarious intentions could get in there." 

To better protect buildings, the Department of Homeland Security recommends conducting a threat assessment, which weighs possible dangers, and determing a property's vulnerability, including how attractive a target it is for crime and terrorism. Once potential risks are determined, building managers can then make necessary upgrades to security. 

Perhaps property managers can take some inspiration from 33 Thomas Street, said to be the most secure building in NYC. Known as the "Long Lines Building," the tower is an NSA hub, writes The Intercept, and with its 24-hour security and windowless, concrete surface, it casts an imposing shadow over downtown—and strikes us as impossible to breach.   

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