Al­li­son Ong stud­ies up­cy­cled climb­ing struc­tures.

Climbing - - CONTENTS - more, visit climb­­doned.) BY JO­HANNA FLASHMAN For

Ger­many, Al­li­son Ong grabbed bul­let holes and stepped into shot blasts. Ong, a climber and land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture grad stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, is one of many to climb on Hum­boldthain Flak­turm, aka the Bunker. In fact, climbers have been us­ing this WWII anti-air­craft tower since the 1960s. Af­ter vis­it­ing the Bunker and Der Ke­gal, a Ber­lin climb­ing gym within a re­ha­bil­i­tated WWII train-re­pair fac­tory, Ong no­ticed how lo­cal climb­ing com­mu­ni­ties had formed around these sites. This past spring, she spent 10 weeks com­pil­ing a 25-page re­search pa­per with nine ex­am­ples of ur­ban climb­ing struc­tures through­out Europe and the United States, show­ing the ben­e­fits of trans­form­ing ex­ist­ing ur­ban struc­tures— from WWII bunkers, to old wa­ter tow­ers, to bridges—into climb­ing spa­ces. (

What was the climb­ing like on the Ber­lin struc­tures?

The Bunker sits in a park, and you can walk right up and climb it. You climb more on nat­u­ral fea­tures—mean­ing, wear and tear from war scars. Climbers have added holds, but you’re mainly climb­ing on holes cre­ated by gun­fire. It felt eerie to be touch­ing WWII ar­ti­facts for recre­ation.

Der Ke­gal feels like a climb­ing gym ex­cept you can also go into the back court­yard where there’s a climb­ing tower. Der Ke­gal is also part of an art com­mune. Ba­si­cally, it’s this big fac­tory with mul­ti­ple build­ings that were aban­doned then re-taken over. The rooms are used as gallery space, con­cert space, and a club.

Are there any struc­tures like this in the United States?

One is Maple Av­enue Bridge in Red­mond, Ore­gon. They had one lead climb and it was on­go­ing, but then they had to pause due to li­a­bil­ity is­sues. [ Ed. The bridge re­cently re­opened to climb­ing.] In Seat­tle where I live, I’m near the Vol­un­teer Park Wa­ter Tower, which peo­ple climb on even though it’s il­le­gal. Climbers are into the idea of climb- ing on ar­chi­tec­ture; it’s just not re­ally le­gal in the United States.

What would the first steps be to­ward le­gal­iz­ing and pro­mot­ing such struc­tures here?

A cul­ture change would be needed. This is echoed in play­ground de­sign. When I was in Ger­many, I saw these amaz­ing, scary, cool play­grounds, but in the US they’re typ­i­cally these bor­ing, su­per-safe struc­tures be­cause every­one is afraid of law­suits. Equally so, the [Euro­peans] have climb­ing walls where peo­ple can just walk up and climb, but in the US we have a lot of re­stric­tions on what you can build for climb­ing. If we could be more re­laxed, this would al­low more climb­ing struc­tures to be built on ex­ist­ing build­ings.

What is the unique ap­peal of these ur­banstruc­tures?

They’re more ac­ces­si­ble to every­one—you don’t need a car be­cause they are build­ings in your city. Peo­ple who climb out­doors could use them as a lo­cal op­tion. There’s some­thing cool about up-cy­cling an old build­ing that isn’t be­ing used [...] since peo­ple love to climb build­ings any­way, and they’ll do it whether it’s le­gal or not.

How do these struc­tures fit in with the fu­ture of climb­ing?

In my field, we talk a lot about the fu­ture of ur­ban­iza­tion, which is just that a lot of peo­ple will be liv­ing in cities and we’ll have to build more houses and build­ings. We’ll need to carve out places for recre­ation, like these climb­ing struc­tures, within the den­sity.

What was your fa­vorite struc­ture you un­cov­ered?

Kil­i­man­schanzo [the only climb­ing struc­ture in Ham­burg, Ger­many]. It’s cov­ered in graf­fiti, so in that way it’s an art space. It was started by a group of con­cerned stake­hold­ers who make their de­ci­sions with every­one in­volved. The fo­cus was on peo­ple—the group wanted to make the park safe, as there had been a prob­lem with drug us­age. I love that there’s this art as­pect, this com­mu­nity as­pect, and also this men­tor­ship as­pect where they part­ner with dif­fer­ent youth clubs and take refugees climb­ing [on the struc­ture] once a week. It’s a great ex­am­ple of how this was just an empty build­ing and now it’s a cen­ter that pro­vides health, ex­er­cise, and out­door recre­ation.


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