The architecture of burglary

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I’ve been wanting to read A Burglar’s Guide to the City, by Geoff Manaugh, whose fascinating blog BLDGBLOG has recently infatuated me. Here is something he recently said to Ellen Gamerman of the Wall Street Journal for “The Dying Art of Burglary,” her review of the book.

Architects tend to think that they’re the only people really concerned about the built environment, but when you read police reports about burglaries or talk to burglars or read FBI reports about bank crimes, they’re discussing architecture in a really unexpected and interesting way.

Movies of bank heists – not Bonnie & Clyde; that’s robbery, not burglary, which involves no (intentional?) violence – are Manaugh’s favorite genre. I’ve always liked them, too, but typically more because of the architecture of the relationship among the burglars than the architecture of the buildings. But there definitely is something here. Think of how much more burglars must love classical architecture, with all its handholds to the second story.

In one of my favorite movies, Cary Grant plays a retired cat burglar who, with Grace Kelly’s jewels as bait, tries to catch a thief using his old techniques in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Lots of useful balconies on the Riviera!

The film might not have caught my attention if the burglars had to deal with modern architecture, with no way to get to the top but by elevator, or maybe swinging onto the roof from another ugly building nearby. I don’t know what Manaugh thinks of what burglars think of modern architecture. He used to work for Dwell magazine. I can imagine one of those “Unhappy Hipster” sendups of Dwell photos in which a man, in the living room of their glass house, says to his wife, “I don’t think burglars break windows anymore.”

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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