The book gives a detailed insight into the mysterious world of burglary with historical heists occurring in human civilization which accounts to how criminal opportunities are hidden and tucked within the architecture and design of the city.

About the author:

Geoff Manaugh; a Los Angeles based freelance writer and an expert in covering issues concerning design, crime, technology and built-environment for various publishing platforms like The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Wired and many more. A burglar’s guide to the city, a best seller book by the New York Times and in the year 2016. Geoff is widely known for his blog called BLDGBLOG which explores various realms and issues in architecture and build-environment and a book based on the blog released by Chronicle Books in 2009.

Book in Focus: A burglar’s guide to the city by Geoff Manaugh - Sheet1
Image 01_Picture of Geoff Manaugh_©


“Reading Geoff Manaugh is like donning night-vision goggles at the edge of the dark forest- you are suddenly aware of, and alive to, a world that was always there but was occluded. A Burglar’s Guide to the city is a crackerjack intellect caper.” – Tom Vanderbilt, author.

The book gives a detailed insight into the mysterious world of burglary with historical heists occurring in human civilization which accounts to how criminal opportunities are hidden and tucked within the architecture and design of the city. Marginalized and peripheral spaces like streets, backyards, attics, basement and parks that are utilized by burglars to create access to the structures by abusing and misusing walls, ceilings and underground passages as a result of ignoring limitations a building tries to impose. Various agencies like the FBI investigate historical heists to understand the body of spatial knowledge and figure out security flaws as the most responsive action of an individual trying to rob within the urban fabric. The spatial pattern evolves with fluidity taking advantage of potential hideouts, shadows that can act differently and critical thinking of possible explorations of adjacent buildings and streets. Thus, burglary requires a defined space of architecture for it to occur.

The author goes forward to reveal various factors that influence a city to act as a stimulant in generating a certain kind of crime through illustrations of city planning and surveillance systems from around the globe.

Burglars configure the loopholes that allow them to be magicians of architecture as they can evolve their problem-solving aptitude with a different spatial sense of how buildings work by modifying it with shortcuts, splices and wormholes. Therefore, the burglars and the investigators highlight the unseen opportunities and path as an unrealized integral element in the same dimension of space. Every high rise building has maintenance rooms, service corridors that residents rarely visit making them margins of architectural consciousness as though they are the dark matter of the built environment. 

Furthermore, a city’s fire code is a powerful tool to understand the sequence of actions making their crime spatially peculiar. Also, the location of a house in the neighborhood determines the probability of it being the target of burglary. Architectural elements and features begin to play dual roles, for example, privacy by design can work for either the inhabitants to protect the contents of the house from street view or allow a robbery to take place without anyone noticing it.

Questions arise while reading the book if climate, temperature, choice of building for a heist and if the ideal location to safeguard a structure could have loopholes are explained with examples most amusingly by the author.

Book in Focus: A burglar’s guide to the city by Geoff Manaugh - Sheet2
Image 2_Illustration of aburglary in process_©

Tools of the trade, a chapter where Geoff explores and understands diverse instruments physical and digital used to hack into a space or system along with elaborate episodes of the most unusual heists divulge the methodology and exhaustive analysis by burglars of a significant character. Examinations are undertaken by architect Bernand Tschumi, who dissects and looks into strange conjugation points where inventive theory gradually blurs into a criminal plan of attack giving burglars their map to navigate spaces within the building. Several brilliant theft video game designs based on these facets to create just enough realistic loopholes for a player to achieve the target. A fundamental aspect that makes any theft successful is the ability to get away; traffic planning becomes an integral part of the scheme to envision clear entry and exit ways by vehicular, pedestrian, waterway necessary to escape with the crime by spoofing the system.

“To really appreciate architecture, you may even need to commit a murder.”

 – Bernard Tschumi, Principal and Lead Designer, Bernard Tschumi Architects.

A heist in the movies and books becomes an obsession by people as it discloses details that one tends to overlook and brings in the power of a burglar’s mind into the limelight for their ability to manipulate architectural design by moving through the world in their own accord. Therefore, a burglar has a transformative relationship to the built environment as they discover the unseen world making them involved participants of the urban; considered a crime by consensus in the society. Architect Rem Koolhaas mentioned that we are voluntary prisoners of architecture all along, coerced and browbeaten by its code of spatial conduct.

This book by Geoff Manaugh wield’s a reader into a roller-coaster state of mind by opening a window into the cosmos of burglary with observations, documents and comprehensive research relevant to appreciate the narrative format revealing conditions involved in a heist with references. It honestly changes the way one would perceive their own house and urban habitat; one might be slightly paranoid after reading by tapping walls and cross-checking security measures for weeks. A must-read book for everyone who enjoys the crime and mystery genre, architects, designers, planners as the author suggests that the built-environment is a spatial puzzle waiting to be solved. Disclaimer the book does not teach one the art of burglary or emphasize on how to carry out a successful heist. Do not try it unless you can manage to get away with it; in that case, send across a symbolic souvenir.

“ Geoff Manaugh’s liaisons with burglars and bank robbers reveal unexplored niches and loopholes in our cities, and through the eyes of the urban hackers, we find new possibilities for reinterpreting the built environment. A Burglar’s Guide to the city shows that architecture is too important to leave to just the architects.” – Bjarke Ingels, founder, BIG Architects.

Book in Focus: A burglar’s guide to the city by Geoff Manaugh - Sheet3
Image 3_Book cover of a burglar’s guide to the city_©goodreads

Subhay Baberwal, a practising architect at Taller-S and a visiting faculty at SJB School of architecture and planning, Bangalore. He is an art and culture enthusiast as well as a certified wildlife Eco-volunteer by the Karnataka Forest Department for activities regarding conservation, census, preservation. Furthermore, he is a poet and currently exploring his voice in architecture writing along with being a ghostwriter for mobile application, fashion collections and bloggers.