Mission Possible: The World’s 9 Most Climbable Buildings

The news that a man once again tried to climb The New York Times Building got us thinking…

A guy tried to climb The New York Times Building on Saturday, but got stuck on the fifth floor and had to be helped down, like a cat in a tree. Who knows why he did it? Maybe he had a screw loose. Maybe he just really felt like shimmying up a 1,047-foot sheer wall of glass and steel. He wouldn’t be the first. Whatever the reason, it got us thinking: What are the world’s most climbable buildings? Here’s a list. (A caveat: We’re not advocating that you actually scale any of these.)


9. The Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. These are the tallest twin towers on earth. Designed to evoke Islamic architecture, the scalloped facade no doubt made for excellent hand- and foot-holds when buildering madman Alain Robert, aka the French Spider-Man, raced to the top of Tower Two, without safety ropes, in 2009.

The Jin Mao is on the right.

8. The Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China. When built in 1999, it was the tallest skyscraper in China. Two years later, a 31-year-old shoe salesman “struck by a rash impulse” became the first to climb it, barehanded. Which was not even a big deal, at least not according to French Spider-Man: At the time he insisted that the tower’s scaffold-like cladding is so easy to ascend, his 6-year-old son could do it. He (Alain, not the kid) scrambled up the Jin Mao for the first time in 2007, dressed as Spider-Man, then got tossed in the clink and expelled from China–presumably for the crime of scaling a skyscraper, not of being a grown man in a Spider-Man costume.

7. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California. SF’s glittering landmark is a magnet for daredevils and demonstrators alike. A few years ago, plucky protestors used climbing gear to hoist themselves about 150 feet up the span’s suspension cables and unfurl “Free Tibet” banners. One little problem: The bridge is windy as hell, especially when you’re that high up, so the banners blew around a lot and weren’t terribly legible.

6. Siloo O, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This is a decommissioned sewage treatment plant, and technically, it isn’t climbable. Not yet, that is. If NL Architects has its way, though, the plant will be transformed into a swanky climbing gym, complete with a facade that doubles as an artificial rock. The best part: It’s legal!

5. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France. How could anyone not want to climb the Eiffel Tower? It’s light-years faster than waiting in line for the elevators.

4. The Great Pyramid, Giza, Egypt. Remember, we are not encouraging you to climb any of these buildings. Especially not this fragile old thing! It’s forbidden, and if you do it anyway, you’ll make the rest of us Americans look like a bunch of assholes in a country where we need all the help we can get. But the Great Pyramid sneaks onto our list for its historical cred alone: Back in the day, you could trudge up its tremendous limestone blocks–each step “as high as a dinner-table,” as Mark Twain wrote–for unhindered views of the Giza Necropolis. Twain hiked the pyramid in the 19th century, coaxed along by a number of enterprising Egyptian guides. He complained relentlessly–hilariously–about the excruciating climb (“I begged them, prayed them, pleaded with them to let me stop and rest a moment”) and his tips-fetishizing guides (“we suffered torture no pen can describe from the hungry appeals for bucksheesh”). At one point, he even offered a particularly rapacious Egyptian $100 to jump off the pyramid head first: “He pondered a moment, and would have done it, I think, but his mother arrived, then, and interfered. Her tears moved me–I never can look upon the tears of woman with indifference–and I said I would give her a hundred to jump off, too.”


3. Willis Tower, formerly Sears, Chicago, Illinois. Here’s a tricky one. The facade is super-smooth and gets slippery when wet. Dan Goodwin was the first to scale it, using suction cups, in 1981. The French Spider-Man went second, sans aids, in 1999. By wedging his fingers and the tips of his toes into the edges of the window frames, then pushing upward with his feet, he was able to climb the tower pane by pane–even on the upper floors, where clouds rolled in, lubricating the glass and steel like oil. “The Sears Tower was without doubt the most challenging urban climb of my career,” he said.

2. The Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE. This is the world’s tallest building–the Mount Everest of skyscrapers. Robert flew up the tower, which soars more than 2,700 feet, in just six hours last year to the exuberant cheers of hundreds of spectators. This time, though he used safety cables, as did the tower’s most famous climber: Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible–Ghost Protocol.

1. The Empire State Building, New York, New York. Two words: King Kong.

[Images: Shamleen, Jason Ho, Photobank, kropic1, Ekaterina Pokrovsky, Rahmo, Mario Savoia, Rahhal, and Vacclav via Shutterstock]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D